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Maintaining Your Job While In Rehab

by Landmark Recovery

October 17, 2018
A man walking to work

If you or a loved one are considering entering treatment for an addiction, then congratulations! You’ve taken the first step of acknowledging the severity of the problem. Now comes the decision. This is the decision to either get clean, or commit to your habit.

You may have reservations about entering treatment. It will be difficult. It will take time. It will take you away from work. These are all true, but the greater truth is that continuing down the path of addiction is infinitely worse.

Addiction is difficult and painful, it takes time from family and friends, and kills your productivity. Addiction takes and takes until there’s nothing left. Rehab is your best chance of stopping addiction in its tracks and getting the chance to turn your life around.

Making the choice to seek treatment for substance dependency can seem like a daunting process. One of the biggest concerns that people have when first entering treatment is whether or not they can retain their job while in treatment. Career concerns can be a major impediment to deciding on what kind of treatment is best for an individual. Fortunately, there are several laws in place to ensure that you are not in danger of losing your job when you seek help for a substance use disorder.

“Roughly 75% of people who need treatment for addiction have jobs.” – SAMHSA

Balancing work responsibility and rehab is not impossible and is actually quite common. According to SAMHSA, around 75% of people who need treatment for a substance use disorder have jobs. This means that plenty of people have done this before, so you shouldn’t think you’re alone in balancing employment and treatment. One bonus of deciding to enter treatment is that it may even help you career. Once you’re free from addiction, it becomes easier to stay healthy, happy, and hard-working. You will have the energy and focus to improve your work skills and dedicate time to your hobbies.

Government Protection for Your Job During Rehab

The United States federal government has specific protections in place that make it so anyone who enters a treatment facility for drug or alcohol addiction is automatically protected against job loss. The acts that protect you are the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA sets requirements for employers to allow you to take sick leave. Since addiction is a disease, employers must treat it the same way as any other illness. All businesses, federal agencies, and government agencies must provide 12 weeks of unpaid sick leave for their employees. However, there are some requirements that must be met first.

“Your company must allow you to have up to 12 weeks of paid leave for addiction treatment.” – FMLA

This is great news for anyone suffering from addiction while employed, however, there are some requirements that must be met first. While you cannot be fired or unpaid for addiction treatment while employed, you and your company must meet the following requirements:

  • You must have been employed with the company for at least 12 months.
  • You must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of FMLA leave.
  • Your company must employ 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the work site.

While you can’t be fired, the FMLA does not guarantee you will be paid during this time. One way to help supplement your income during this time is to apply for short-term disability. Short-term disability will guarantee you at least a portion of your pay while you are in rehab. In order to claim these protections, you will need apply for it.


How to Apply for FMLA

To apply for FMLA you will first need to make sure that you meet the above requirements. Then, you will need to inform your employer of your intention to take medical leave and that you wish to use FMLA. You may also inform them if you plan on applying for short-term disability. If you wish, you do not need to inform your employer that you are taking FMLA for addiction treatment. You are not allowed to begin taking unaccounted absences as these will not be covered by FMLA. If your employer refuses, you may be able to sue for discrimination.

“If your employer refuses to allow you the full 12 weeks of medical leave for addiction, or any other medical reasons, or you are penalized for your condition, you can sue for discrimination.”

If you also belong to a worker’s union, you may have additional protections in place. If your employer is contracted with a union, speak to your representative. You should be thoroughly prepared for entering treatment, and that starts with making sure your livelihood is protected.


Can You be Fired for Going to Rehab?

If you do plan on using FMLA to cover rehab, you must give your employer prior notice. If you fail to do so, you will not be protected by the FMLA and can be fired. However, if the employer has an established policy, applied in a non-discriminatory manner, that has been communicated to all employees, and that provides under certain circumstances an employee may be terminated for substance abuse, then pursuant to that policy the employee may be terminated regardless of whether he or she is presently taking FMLA leave while in rehab for said substance abuse. Here is the outline of the law as dictated by the U.S. Department of Labor.


Serious Health Condition – Leave for Treatment of Substance Abuse

“Treatment for substance abuse may be a serious health condition if the conditions for inpatient care and/or continuing treatment are met.”


“FMLA leave may only be taken for substance abuse treatment provided by a healthcare provider or by a provider of health care services on referral by a health care provider. Absence because of the employee’s use of the substance, rather than for treatment, does not qualify for FMLA leave.”


The employer may not take action against the employee because the employee has exercised his or her right to take FMLA leave for substance abuse treatment. However, if the employer has an established policy, applied in a non-discriminatory manner, that has been communicated to all employees, and that provides under certain circumstances an employee may be terminated for substance abuse, then pursuant to that policy the employee may be terminated regardless of whether he or she is presently taking FMLA leave.”


An employee may also take FMLA leave to care for a covered family member who is receiving treatment for substance abuse. The employer may not take action against an employee who is providing care for a covered family member receiving treatment for substance abuse.”


The Americans With Disabilities Act

Similar to the FMLA, the Americans With Disabilities Act was designed to give American workers protection from debilitating injuries and illnesses. Thanks to the ADA, employees with disabilities are protected from being fired or discriminated against by companies, and to be provided with reasonable accommodations so they can do their work. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, alcoholism and drug addiction are considered as disabilities. However, unlike other disabilities, substance use disorders are only protected during the hiring process. That means that an employer may not discriminate against a person who has a history of drug addiction but who is not currently using drugs and who has been rehabilitated.

However, employers may prohibit the illegal use of drugs and the use of alcohol at the workplace and it is not a violation of the ADA for an employer to give tests for the illegal use of drugs. Employer are also legally allowed to discharge or deny employment to persons who currently engage in the illegal use of drugs. Employees who do use drugs or alcohol may be required to meet the same standards of performance and conduct that are set for other employees as outlined in the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 and rules set by federal agencies pertaining to drug and alcohol use in the workplace.


The Employer’s Role In Treatment

Employers may be averse to the stipulations outlined within the FMLA. After all, 12 weeks is a long time. Employers should know however, that having healthy employees is linked to a more productive and happy workforce. One report cited by the United States Commission on Civil Rights found that as many as 10 – 25% of Americans have come to work under the influence of substances.

Adhering to the FMLA gives employers the chance to allow their employees to take care of themselves and hopefully return to work sober and more equipped to handle their workload. Employers may even see a boost in office morale and productivity. This does not mean that an employers should not still be stern when it comes to workplace drug usage. Employers can also draft a Return to Work agreement for employees entering treatment that outlines the behavioral and performance expectations for the employee after they get sober.

It’s important to remember that both the FMLA and ADA do not protect individuals who currently use drugs. In other words, if an employee is actively using or if their addiction interferes with their ability do do their job, it is within the employers rights to terminate that person. If you are currently struggling with an addiction, it’s important to seek out treatment as soon as possible so that you can get covered under the FMLA.


Before Treatment

You should always approach your employer first if you plan on using FMLA. If you are worried, you should consult with HR before approaching your manager. If your employer comes to you about a reduction in workplace quality related to possible substance use, you can protect yourself by being honest about your addiction disorder and requesting treatment. Depending on your company and its union, you may be protected against firing and allowed to enter treatment. You do not have to disclose if you are seeking to enter rehab.


After Treatment

Once treatment is complete, you may be asked to sign a RTWA. A Return to Work Agreement is a written document that contains your employers expectations for employees coming back to work after completing treatment for addiction. Some common stipulations included within a Return-To-Work-Agreement include:

  • Complete abstinence from alcohol/drugs unless prescribed by a doctor
  • A period of regular drug testing
  • Compliance with professional addiction treatment recommendations
  • Agreement to monitoring and compliance measures

As long as these requirements are met, the employee must be allowed to reenter the company and be reinstated in the position they last held. Any discrimination that is provable upon returning to the company is grounds for a discrimination lawsuit.


In Conclusion

The stigma and fears associated with entering rehab can be enough for many people to refrain from seeking treatment from a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. According to SAMHSA, only 10% of the people who need treatment for drug and alcohol addiction actually receive it. If you would like more information about addiction counseling, resources, and information about treatment, visit Landmark Recovery today!

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.