How does the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) cover treatment for substance abuse? The short answer is that it’s pretty complicated. Before considering whether you or someone you love may be covered for addiction treatment, it’s important to understand what the FMLA is, how Federal law treats drugs and alcohol differently, and what legal protections for “disability” may be involved.
As the medical establishment has moved to treat addiction as a disease or disability instead of a moral failing, Federal laws have expanded to provide some employment protection for people suffering with addiction to drugs or alcohol. The most important of these Federal protections are found in the FMLA and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).
Unlike other disabilities, however, the protections for addicts are fairly narrow and generally only apply to those in recovery or employees who are currently looking to enter an inpatient rehab program. In many states, jobs that involve licensing boards, like medicine, may have special provisions. In most cases, treatment is covered and ex-addicts can’t be passed over for a job because of attending rehab. However, people with a documented addiction problem may have to prove that they have been in treatment and recovery for 6 months or longer.
In companies with more than 50 people, Federal law requires that employees have access to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for medical reasons. The usual reasons to use FMLA are for personal illness or disability, childbirth, or illness of an immediate family member. To be covered, an employee must have been working full-time at the company for 12 consecutive months or longer. FMLA does not cover contract workers.
If an employee is an active addict, taking time off to go to an addiction rehab program run by a medical professional is generally covered. This means that you cannot legally be fired for seeking treatment, although you still may be fired for prior job performance issues. FMLA cannot be used to cover days missed due to drug or alcohol use. Finally, Federal protections around disability also apply to certain “reasonable accommodations” to a worker’s schedule, like being allowed to leave early a few days a week to attend AA meetings or other approved therapy.
Together, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and FMLA can help protect addicts from discrimination in the workplace. Former addicts cannot be discriminated against during the hiring process, because addiction is covered as a serious disability by the ADA. But, there are some special exceptions. In certain industries, former addicts may be required to have more detailed documentation of sobriety before a job is offered or reinstated.
Also, it’s important to understand that different substances may be treated differently. Namely, the ADA considers alcoholism a disability, while current use of illegal drugs is not covered. Like the FMLA, the ADA also doesn’t protect any on-the-job behavior that results from active use of either drugs or alcohol. The bottom line is that although addicts cannot be refused a job due to previously attending treatment and can’t be fired for asking for FMLA to attend a treatment program, legal protection doesn’t cover everything.
For active addicts who know they need help, seeking treatment as soon as possible is for the best, for a variety of reasons! The type of Federal protection for addicts is another reason to consider going to rehab before job performance starts being affected. You are covered under FMLA if you ask for help. But if you don’t treat the active addiction, you can most definitely still be fired for any unprofessional behavior, mistakes, or absenteeism your substance abuse causes. Your FMLA may also be rejected if you do not complete the program and have a relapse during your time off.
For tips on what to say if it’s time to discuss entering treatment with your boss, read this. If you or someone you know is looking for an addiction treatment program that is in accordance with FMLA law, contact us now to learn more about your options.
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