Addiction to drugs or alcohol is a complicated chronic brain disease. It changes the brain’s chemistry, affecting the brain’s systems of reward/pleasure, decision-making, learning, self-control, and stress. Substance use disorder (SUD) affects millions of people in the United States. Unfortunately, many of these people are afraid to seek treatment because they fear losing their job. Understanding your protections and legal rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is critical if you are not getting the addiction treatment you need for fear of losing your employment.
What Is the FMLA or the Family and Medical Leave Act?
The Family and Medical Leave Act is a federal law passed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. It legally assures covered employees the opportunity to take a protected leave of absence under specific circumstances without worrying about losing their jobs. Under the FMLA, during a 12-month period, employees can take up to 12 weeks’ leave of absence without pay. The time off must be for serious medical needs or to care for a family member with a serious medical condition. During the time the employee is on leave, their group health insurance coverage is continued with the same conditions and terms. In some instances, employers may require employees to use their paid vacation or other paid leave time for treatment. Each state has different benefit provisions. It is best to check with your employer’s Human Resources Department.
The Family and Medical Leave Act & Addiction Treatment
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), substance use disorders are classified as disabilities. This classification prohibits employers from discriminating against anyone struggling with an alcohol or drug addiction, with certain conditions. Since the ADA states substance use disorders are disabilities, the disease is considered a serious health condition and treatment for it is protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
According to information from the Legal Information Institute of the Cornell Law School, under the Family and Medical Leave Act, treatment for addiction may only be taken if it is provided by a healthcare provider or by a provider of healthcare services referred by a healthcare provider.
If the employee is absent from work because of using a substance instead of getting treatment, they do not qualify for a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Who Is Eligible for Family and Medical Leave?
Not every employer is required to abide by the Family and Medical Leave Act, and not every employee is eligible for its benefits.
Covered employers are required to provide FMLA benefits if:
- They are public agencies, such as federal, state, or local government agencies (regardless of how many people they employ)
- Or they are private or public secondary or elementary schools (regardless of how many people they employ)
- They are companies in the private sector employing 50 or more people working within 75 miles of the employment location.
To be eligible for FMLA benefits, an employee must:
- Work for a covered employer
- Work a minimum of 20 hours a week
- Be employed at the covered employer for a minimum of one year (and work at least 1,250 hours per year)
- Work at a location with a minimum of 50 employees working within 75 miles of the employment location
Using the FMLA for Addiction Treatment
If you are suffering from addiction, work for an FMLA covered employer, and meet the employment criteria for coverage, you may take up to 12 weeks leave of absence for addiction treatment. Most residential treatment programs last 30 days, although 60- and 90-day programs are also available at some facilities.
Residential treatment followed by outpatient treatment and other forms of aftercare offers the best chance of success in sustaining long-term sobriety. While it may seem like a burden to take leave from work and arrange for coverage of home responsibilities, getting treatment now will be well worth the time it takes. You will return to work after treatment with a clear head, renewed energy, and tools to handle the stress that might have led to your substance use. You will be better able to manage responsibilities at home and nurture relationships that may have suffered because of the addiction.
Not sure whether your workplace qualifies for FMLA? Talk to your human resources manager or to a supervisor or coworker you trust. If you do not qualify for a leave of absence, don’t let that stop you from getting treatment. If your employer is not willing to work with your need for treatment, know that treatment is still your best option for long-term success and health. Your treatment center can connect you with job-search resources to help you find another job after treatment ends.
Do You Need Help?
Addiction to drugs or alcohol can happen to anyone. If you or a loved one struggles with a substance use disorder, help is available. You are not alone. Whether you qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act or not, now is the time to get the help you need. At Anabranch Recovery Center, located in Terre Haute, Indiana, our highly skilled professionals will help you gain the skills needed for lasting sobriety. Call us today and take the first step on the road to recovery.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.