Did you know that only around 10% of people who need it get help from an appropriate rehabilitation facility? There are a number of reasons for this, including budget constraints, family responsibilities, and location, making entering a good rehab a difficult task. However, one of the biggest challenges those struggling with addiction face is taking leave from their workplace.
Taking time off for rehab is scary in itself, but when you don’t know the laws around it, it’s even worse. Whether you’re an employer, lawyer, or member of staff, it’s vital that you know the rights of employees who need to go to rehab. Let’s take a look.
Can I Get Fired For Going to Rehab?
Most workplaces respond positively to time off for mental health and addiction. As the stigma around these topics decreases and employers risk facing criticism if they don’t modernize their policies, it’s highly unlikely you’d be fired for taking time off to attend rehab.
Even if you do have an employer who doesn’t respect putting your wellbeing first, the U.S. has laws in place to prevent this from happening. In short, it would be quite hard for an employer to fire you for going to rehab, whether they want to or not.
The Family and Medical Leave Act
In the U.S., the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was brought in in 1993 to ensure employees can take time off for medical or family-related reasons. This leave is unpaid, but the law prevents you from being fired. This act covers those who require treatment at mental health and addiction rehabilitation centers. It also protects anyone who takes care of that individual during their recovery, such as a parent or spouse.
The FMLA allows for twelve weeks of unpaid leave per year for those suffering from substance abuse and mental illness. When you return, your employer must welcome you back under the same terms and conditions as when you left (e.g., the same pay and the same allocated holiday days).
Be aware, though, that you must be receiving treatment during this time. If you stop attending rehab or are struggling with substance abuse without seeking treatment, you won’t be covered by the act and can lose your job.
Are You Protected by FMLA?
Before leaving work to attend rehab, we advise speaking with your employer about whether you’re covered by FMLA. Some companies have substance abuse policies that render the FMLA ineffective, meaning that you won’t be covered. Check with HR or your direct manager to understand the company’s stance.
Other than speaking with your employer, you can take a look at the following criteria to work out if you’re covered:
- Your employers must be covered
- The company employs 50+ workers within a 75-mile radius
- You must have worked at the company for at least one year in total (the months don’t have to be consecutive)
- You must have worked for at least 1,250 hours over that year
But, even if you think you’re covered, it’s always best to check in with your company just in case.
Is Your Employer Covered by the FMLA?
Employers that are covered by FMLA include:
- Government agencies
- Public or private schools
- Private companies with 50+ employees
If your employer is covered by FMLA, they must make all staff aware. This is usually done through paperwork for new hires or is detailed in the employee handbook.
The FMLA Process For Requesting Leave
When requesting leave for rehab, it’s vital that you follow the FMLA process to ensure you’re protected by the law. Each employer will have its only policies you must adhere to, but in general, the process has three steps.
The first is to collect all information required by your workplace to process your leave request. This can include:
- How long you’ll be in treatment
- Confirmation you’ll be able to resume work after treatment
- A copy of your essential duties at work
You’ll then file for an FMLA leave request, which should give your employer 30+ days’ notice. You don’t need to mention FMLA if this is your first leave request. Within five days of the request, your employer must confirm or deny your request.
It’s also important to note that you’re not required to hand over any medical records if your employer doesn’t specifically request them. All communication between your health care provider and employer must be in-line with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations regarding privacy.
Other Acts That Protect Employees Attending Rehab
There is another act that you can look into if your employer isn’t covered by FMLA. This is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If your addiction meets the requirements, you’ll be protected against discrimination in the workplace, including being fired. They must also make it easier for you to receive treatment, such as by being flexible with working hours to allow you to attend sessions.
Speaking to Your Employer About Time Off
If you’re worried about bringing up your need for treatment with your employer, remember that you’re far less likely to be treated negatively for seeking treatment rather than for substance abuse. Most employers will be sympathetic and admire your bravery.
If your nerves are holding you back, get in touch with an addiction center you feel comfortable with and ask them for help. They can give you tips and empower you to speak out, giving you the confidence you need to secure your treatment.
Requesting leave for addiction treatment is never an easy task, but knowing your rights can make it a lot simpler. Do your research before putting in your request and prepare what you’d like to say to help your meeting go as smoothly as possible. Remember, if you’re covered by FMLA, you can’t be fired.
This blog was contributed directly to Workplace Fairness by contributor Gemma Williams — formerly Gemma Hart.