If you learned that you had cancer or you needed a kidney transplant, you probably wouldn’t hesitate to tell your employer that you had to take time off to get treatment. However, if you need to enter a rehab facility because you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, you may be concerned that 1) you can’t take time off – even without pay – and that 2) your employer will fire you if they learn that you have a substance abuse problem.
Fortunately, you’re likely protected thanks to a couple of different federal laws –- the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Let’s take a look at how those can help employees get the treatment they need.
When Can You Use the FMLA for Rehab?
The FMLA, which applies to all businesses with at least 50 employees as well as public agencies and schools, requires employees to get up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually to take care of their own or a family member’s medical needs. This includes seeking treatment for a substance use disorder.
If you’ve worked for your employer for at least a year and put in at least 1,250 hours during that time, you should qualify for FMLA leave. You can’t be fired for using that leave for rehab as long as you provide the appropriate notification to your employer ahead of time.
What if You Use Your Vacation Time?
Maybe you have a month of vacation time saved up, and you use that time to go to a treatment facility. You don’t tell your employer, but they find out. Can they fire you if they learn that you got treatment for a substance issue?
Thanks to the ADA, they can’t. The ADA includes chemical dependency as a disability. Even if you were under the influence at work in the past, you can’t be fired for that.
Getting Treatment Can Save Your Job
It will likely make you a better employee. More importantly, it can save your health and possibly your life. If you don’t seek treatment and are found to be under the influence on the job, you could legally be terminated.
If you’ve been retaliated against or wrongfully fired because you sought treatment, it may be wise to talk with an attorney to determine what options you have. An experienced employment law attorney can provide guidance and assistance.