Entering treatment for drug or alcohol use is a big step, and it can be a stressful one when you have a job. Wondering if you can be fired for going to rehab can cause significant stress. Committing to treatment is a tough decision, but if you don’t get help, you could lose your job anyway due to your substance use. Let’s take a look at how the law can protect you from being fired for going to rehab.
FMLA Offers Protection Against Being Fired for Going to Rehab
The Family and Medical Leave Act provides protection if you take a leave for medical reasons and can provide you with up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off from work annually without the risk of losing your job. The FMLA also calls for existing group health benefits through your employer to be maintained during your leave.1 A substance use disorder is considered a medical condition.2
The FMLA applies to all public agencies, all school employees and businesses with 50 or more workers. When employers are considered FMLA eligible under these guidelines, they must provide employees who are eligible with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave yearly when the employee cannot work due to a serious health condition.
You’re eligible under the FMLA if you’ve worked for your employer at least 12 months, for a minimum of 1,250 hours over the past 12 months and you’re employed at a site where the company employs 50 or more workers within 75 miles. If you meet these criteria, you can’t be fired for going to rehab by simply taking an FMLA leave of absence.
Be sure to request an FMLA leave before you enter treatment. You can be fired for going to rehab if you don’t follow the formal FMLA process for requesting a leave of absence. If you enter a treatment facility first, then tell your employer afterward, you’re not protected under this law.
ADA Protection Against Being Fired for Going to Rehab
The Americans with Disabilities Act is federal law that prohibits discrimination against employees who have disabilities. Keep in mind an “individual with a disability” doesn’t include a person who is currently using illegal drugs.3 Under the ADA, an employer can terminate an employee if they are using drugs or alcohol on the job, if substance use impacts performance or productivity or if substance use creates unsafe conditions on the job.3
It’s a different matter if your employer discovers you’re going to treatment. For example, let’s say you’re going to take four weeks of vacation time and plan to spend it in rehab. Your employer finds out that you’re going to enter treatment. You can’t be fired for going to rehab under these circumstances, according to the ADA. That’s because chemical dependency is considered a disability.
The ADA law looks to the time a person is actually terminated to determine whether that employee is currently abusing drugs or alcohol. The law doesn’t look at past transgressions due to drug and alcohol abuse. If you seek substance abuse treatment voluntarily, you can’t be fired for going to rehab or be fired for past mistakes due to drug and alcohol use.3
If you’re unsure about how entering treatment will impact your employment, speak to the admissions specialists at the rehab facility. They can help guide you on the best approach for entering rehab while preserving your job.