Content Medically Reviewed by:
Dr. Patricia Sullivan MD MPH
Do you have to choose between keeping your job or going to rehab?
Recovering from an addiction is a life-changing experience. The majority who choose the path of recovery begins with a drug and alcohol rehab or treatment center. Seeking out healing in a rehab center is always a good choice for the overall wellness of an individual. It’s essential to learn to live a happy life without drugs and alcohol. However, when considering their current work situation, individuals with addiction may opt-out of addiction rehab to maintain their career. For some, this is because they currently have an amazing job that they do not want to risk losing. For others, it’s a situation where they are supporting a family. With most addiction treatment programs beyond detox being between 30 and 90 days, the road to true recovery takes time. In this type of situation, high-functioning drug and alcohol users feel as if they have two choices: livelihood or sobriety. Of course, this is a decision no person should have to make.
Luckily, there are options available to those who want to keep their job and go to rehab. Between the flexibility of treatment centers and federal laws currently in place, those with a Substance Use Disorder (addiction) can feel at peace with their decision to go to a rehab center.
In this blog, we educate you on your rights to seek addiction rehab for a drug and alcohol addiction without losing your job.
Outpatient or Inpatient?
Being in an outpatient program involves traveling to the center every weekday and attending classes that help patients recover. Each day, after the therapy sessions are over, the patient can go home and handle their daily responsibilities. Sometimes, these responsibilities include working and maintaining a career.
But take a moment and honestly reflect on your situation. If your addiction to drugs and alcohol is overpowering and deep down you know that you need the 24/7 inpatient rehab care, you should always go for it. If you know that you cannot abstain from using upon returning home at the end of the day, don’t take the chance.
Although working while in outpatient treatment might seem doable, most patients find full recovery from emerging themselves into a new, healthy inpatient treatment routine.
Know Your Rights: The Family and Medical Leave Act
To attend an inpatient or outpatient treatment program, it is obvious that patients will have to miss work. The average inpatient program is 60 days. Many employees believe that they would need to quit their job to go to rehab. When faced with this situation, it is obvious they might feel that recovery isn’t in the cards for them.
Fortunately, this is not the case.
The U.S. Department of Labor has legislation in place protecting employees who need time off for health concerns and family caretaking. The Family and Medical Leave Act was created to provide certain eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid yet job-protected leave for each year.
“FMLA is designed to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities by allowing them to take reasonable unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. It also seeks to accommodate the legitimate interests of employers and promote equal employment opportunity for men and women.”
This piece of legislation gives some much-needed breathing room for employees who have a disability, mental illness, or an addiction. Although there are some restrictions, those eligible for the time off have a window to seek the care they need. The scope of this federal act encompasses most employers.
As an employed individual, you can use FMLA if you work for a public agency, public or private school, or a company that employs more than 50 people.
For those who work at one of these locations and need time to recovery, here are the restrictions.
FMLA Eligibility Requirements
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, you may take FMLA for the following situations:
- For the birth and care of the newborn child of an employee;
- For placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care;
- To care for an immediate family member (i.e., spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition; or
- To take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.
The last bullet point for those struggling with a substance use disorder includes stepping away for addiction recovery. Overall, this means there is plenty of time for a treatment program for those seeking help. However, there are some more requirements each employee must-have.
“Employees are eligible for leave if they have worked for their employer at least 12 months, at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles. Whether an employee has worked the minimum 1,250 hours of service is determined according to FLSA principles for determining compensable hours or work.”
The key requirement to note is the number of hours worked in the last 12 months. For the sake of ease, this means an employee must work an average of 25 hours a week for a year before requesting leave.
Another key statistic to note is the number of employees the company has. If an employee is unsure of this number, they should try asking a Human Resources representative at their employment location.
FMLA Certification for Rehab
Going along with these requirements is something else to be remembered: the certification of the serious health condition.
According to the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor:
“The employer may require the employee to submit a certification from a health care provider to support the employee’s need for FMLA leave to care for a covered family member with a serious health condition or the employee’s serious health condition.”
FMLA Certification Law
“The employer must notify the employee each time a certification is required. The employer’s notice should include the written notice of FMLA rights and responsibilities given to the employee when leave is first requested. The employer may request certification at a later date if it questions the appropriateness of the leave or its duration.”
Even though showing medical proof of the condition may be a hassle, it is a requirement.
FMLA Medical Certification
“If the employer requests medical certification, the employee is responsible for providing a complete and sufficient certification, generally within 15 calendar days after the employer’s request. The employee is responsible for paying for the medical certification cost and making sure the certification is provided to the employer.”
To summarize, this means the employee is responsible for providing the necessary certification documents within two weeks of the employer’s request. This is not to be confused with two weeks after the doctor signs the certification document.
If an employee fails to do this, the employer will notify them with a written notice. However, there may be consequences.
“Consequences – If the employee does not provide the requested certification within the time required or fails to provide a complete and sufficient certification despite the opportunity to cure any deficiencies, the employer may deny the employee’s request for FMLA leave.”
Authentication and Clarification
“Once the employer has received a complete and sufficient certification, the employer may not request additional information from the health care provider. However, the employer may use a human resources professional, a leave administrator, another health care provider, or a management official to contact the health care provider to authenticate or to clarify the certification.”
In other words, under no circumstances is the employee’s direct supervisor allowed to contact the health provider of the employee. Nevertheless, the supervisor may request a representative to reach out to the health care provider.
There are many restrictions the federal government puts in place to protect employees who want an FMLA leave. According to the law:
“It is unlawful for any employer to interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of or the attempt to exercise any right provided by the FMLA. It is also unlawful for an employer to discharge or discriminate against any individual for opposing any practice, or because of involvement in any proceeding, related to the FMLA.”
With these protocols in place, individuals must understand their rights. Likewise, doing some research on these rights is very important.
Privacy Concerns: Will My Employer Tell My Coworkers that I am in Rehab?
Protecting your privacy is important to both your emotional wellbeing as well as your addiction recovery journey. It is important to know your right to confidentiality.
According to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, there is a basic rule that employers must follow:
“With limited exceptions, you must keep confidential any medical information you learn about an applicant or employee. Information can be confidential even if it contains no medical diagnosis or treatment course and even if it is not generated by a health care professional.”
Employees who need medical leave for rehab need to understand that necessary documentation of their health history will be needed in the company’s files.
Furthermore, there may be instances where employers may have to disclose medical information about employees.
Examples of these instances are found in the OEC webpage:
- to supervisors and managers where they need medical information in order to provide a reasonable accommodation or to meet an employee’s work restrictions;
- to first aid and safety personnel if an employee would need emergency treatment or require some other assistance (such as help during an emergency evacuation) because of a medical condition;
- to individuals investigating compliance with the ADA and with similar state and local laws; and
- pursuant to workers’ compensation laws (e.g., to a state workers’ compensation office in order to evaluate a claim) or for insurance purposes.
It is more than likely that this critical information will not be brought up by employers to other employees. Due to the sensitive nature of the law, most employers will avoid saying anything unless necessary.
Addiction is Medical Condition Covered Under FMLA
Even though some people will say differently, addiction is a medical condition. The Mayo Clinic recognizes this as a scientific fact.
“Drug addiction, also called substance use disorder, is a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medication. Substances such as alcohol, marijuana, and nicotine also are considered drugs.”
With this being the case, individuals will be able to take the 12 weeks to leave and attend rehab. This is according to the legislation of the FMLA.
Going to rehab does not have to ruin your life or keep you from your ideal career. Everyone can receive the help they need if they choose to ask for it. There is nothing wrong with taking a mental break to rest. If you or a loved one have any questions regarding addiction, please call the number on the screen.
About the Author
Michael Tavernier is an Arizona State University writing and journalism graduate who believes in empathy, kindness, and self-love. He strives for contentment and peace in a world that is abnormally chaotic. Michael uses his creative writing skills to create content that is easy to read, helpful, and informative. He believes that for those suffering from addiction education through means of accurate information is foundational to begin the journey to recovery.
Helping Men and Women Know Their Rights
After helping men and women recover from drug and alcohol addiction for over 10 years, we’ve noticed an alarming number of individuals who do not know their rights under FMLA. At times, it’s easy to assume the worst when looking at drug and alcohol rehab. The truth is that addiction will have much more of an effect on your livelihood then going to rehab ever will. If you still currently have your job and are functioning at least somewhat normally managing both, it will not last forever. Untreated addiction is a progressive disease. It’s natural to wonder if you’ll get fired for going to rehab, but the truth is that in many cases, it’s illegal for an employer to fire you simply because you’re looking to take FMLA for a drug and/or alcohol addiction.
If you’re ready to make the next step and have questions about rehab, please give us a call today! We’d love to help you.