Employees and Medical Leave for Addiction Treatment

In the United States, millions of individuals struggle with drug and alcohol addiction including employees in various fields. Many common professions, such as managers, construction workers, and attorneys are prone to addiction. While the addiction may come from different issues, work-related frustration and stress are among the culprits.


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Certain jobs are susceptible to higher amounts of stress than others. For example, people working in emergency rooms and those handling high profile lawsuits are more experience high-stress situations on a daily basis. This increase in stress can lead to them to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. It can be scary for these employees and professionals to seek help because they fear that it may affect their employment. That being said, there are ways an employee can have a leave of absence to go rehab while not risking losing his or her job.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)


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Commonly referred to as FMLA, the Family and Medical Leave Act allows workers who meet certain requirements to get up to 12 weeks off work without paying in a year while not risking losing their job. Also, under the Act, a worker can continue utilizing benefits offered by their health insurance.

In order to qualify for such leaves, the FMLA states that a worker should meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • They must have been in employment with a company or organization for not less than 12 months
  • They should have worked for no less than 1,250 hours in the duration of 12 months before taking FMLA leave
  • They should be working with an employer who has 50 or more workers working within a radius of 75 miles of the work site.

People tending to serious health issues and those caring for newborns, or those helping spouses and other employees when in duty can use the Family and Medical Leave Act. FMLA also covers treatment for addiction. Something to mention here is that if an employer can prove that he or she was about to terminate you before you requested for the leave, it is likely that you won’t get FMLA. When you use FMLA, your employment is protected until you are back to work. Your job position is retained meaning it is available when you come back and you cannot be placed in a position different from the one you held before starting your FMLA leave unless it is equivalent or of the same capacity.

An employee can also get FMLA to leave to take care of a family member covered by the Act who is being treated for substance abuse. The employee caring for the covered family member getting treatment for addiction may not be terminated or have action taken against him or her by the employer. The absence of an employee because of the abuse of substances rather than receiving treatment cannot qualify for FMLA leave.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

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Another thing to consider if you want to keep your employment while attending a rehab is the ADA. This Act favors individuals with disabilities needing to get some time off from the duty to seek treatment or recovery. Not all people with addiction are eligible to have leave under ADA, however, it is possible for some individuals to get it. In Chapter 4 of the Americans with Disabilities Act that is entitled Substance Abuse Under the ADA, it highlights the rights employers have over employees doing drugs.

For example, an employer can decide to terminate a person currently abusing illicit drugs. An employer can also request an employee to be tested with drugs. However, an employer doesn’t have the right to discriminate against a potential employee who previously did drugs but has now recovered and is sober.

Employees who qualify to get coverage as stipulated by the ADA are:

  • Those who have been in rehab and have successfully recovered and no longer engage in the use of illicit drugs
  • Those who are presently taking part in a rehab program and are not using illicit drugs
  • Those erroneously regarded as using illicit drugs

A person who previously did drugs but was not addicted is not considered to be incapacitated or substantially limited. The individual is not considered to have a disability based on previous drug use. A person must be addicted to a drug for him or her to be limited or to be said to have a disability. ADA can help you retain your job while taking part in a rehab program and get a portion of your salary during that period.

If you want to go to a rehab facility and remain protected by the FMLA, you need to notify your employer in advance. If you don’t do so, the employer has probable cause for termination, because you're not protected. Giving the employer sufficient time assures that prior arrangements are done to have someone else hold your position or handle your duties during the time that you spend away from work, for treatment.

It is important that you be honest with yourself and your employer and not shy away from talking to your employer about your struggles with addiction.


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