Deciding to seek treatment for alcohol or drug dependence is a major step for people struggling with addiction issues. However, the choice can be highly stressful if you are employed. Many employees hesitate to go to inpatient rehabilitation even when they need it because of concerns they have about potentially losing their jobs. Recognizing that you need treatment is a hard realization, and the fear of losing your job can compound the difficulty of your decision. However, if you don’t seek help, your substance abuse issues will likely threaten your job anyway.
Fortunately, there are some laws that might protect your job if you seek rehabilitation treatment to try to recover from your substance abuse problems. Here’s some information from the employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler about whether you can be terminated for going to inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation treatment.
Possible Protection Under the Family and Medical Leave Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offers job-protected leave to eligible employees who need to take time off from work to take care of their own serious medical conditions or their family member’s serious health condition. If you are an eligible employee who works for a covered employer, you can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off from work in a 12-month period to address your health concerns without losing your job.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) reports that a substance abuse disorder might be a qualifying condition for leave under the FMLA when the treatment is provided by a health care provider or by a treatment facility after a referral from the employee’s health care provider. The inpatient treatment and continuing care must also meet the conditions required for a serious health condition under the law. The FMLA also requires employers to continue providing employer-provided health insurance benefits while the employee is taking leave from work.
Which Employers Are Covered Under the FMLA?
The FMLA covers the following types of employers:
- Local, state, and federal agencies
- Public and private K-12 schools
- Private employers with 50 or more employees working within 75 miles of each other
Employers that are covered by the FMLA must provide eligible employees up to 12 weeks of time off from work per year when the employees are unable to work because of a serious medical condition.
Who Is Eligible Under the FMLA?
An eligible employee under the FMLA is someone who meets all of the following criteria:
- Has worked for the employer for 12 or more months before the date of the requested leave
- Has worked at least 1,250 hours for the employer in the previous 12 months
- Works for a covered employer as described above
- Has a serious health condition that prevents working
If you meet the above-listed criteria, you can request leave under the FMLA to attend inpatient rehabilitation treatment for your substance abuse issues. Your employer can ask for medical certification from your healthcare provider about your need for leave to treat your condition. Make sure that you follow the formal process when requesting leave. If you go to treatment without asking for leave first, the FMLA will not protect your job.
Protection under the Americans With Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal law that prohibits workplace discrimination against employees based on disabling conditions. Employers must reasonably accommodate disabled employees as long as doing so will not create an undue hardship for the employers.
However, the ADA does not protect people who are current users of illegal drugs. Your employer can fire you if you are using drugs or alcohol while working on the job or if your substance abuse creates an unsafe condition at the worksite. Your employer can also fire you if your productivity or performance is poor because of your drug abuse.
Can You Be Fired for Going to Rehab?
If your employer learns that you attended inpatient drug and alcohol treatment, you can’t be fired on that basis. For example, if you used up your vacation time to attend rehabilitation treatment, your employer can’t terminate you because you attended treatment. Under this type of circumstance, your chemical dependence would be considered to be a disability under the ADA. The ADA instead considers the time when a person is terminated and whether the employee is abusing substances at that time. It doesn’t consider past drug or alcohol abuse. If you voluntarily sought treatment and used up your accrued vacation time to do so, your employer can’t later use that against you to terminate you from your job if you are no longer abusing drugs.
How to Talk to Your Employer About Going to Rehab
If you are struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, your performance at work might already be affected. Many people who have drug and alcohol disorders have lower attendance, poorer performance, and trouble focusing at work. When you talk to your employer, make sure that you emphasize that you want to take the steps needed to seek help for your addiction. Being honest and transparent about your situation is better than trying to hide what is going on with you. Your company might also have an employee assistance program (EAP) available to employees who need help in treating substance abuse disorders. If you do request leave, make sure to coordinate with your coworkers and boss to ensure that important tasks will be taken care of until you return, and tie up loose ends.
Talk to Swartz Swidler
Millions of Americans are struggling with substance abuse disorders. If you are struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, you’re not alone. You might be protected from being terminated from your job if you attend inpatient treatment for your addiction. To learn more about your rights, consult an employment lawyer at Swartz Swidler by calling us at (856) 685-7420.