Can I Be Fired for Going to Rehab?

Entering treatment for drug or alcohol use is a big step, and it can be a stressful one when you have a job. Starting services for substance abuse can lead someone to wonder “can I be fired for going to rehab?” Committing to treatment is a tough decision, but if you don’t get help, substance use will jeopardize your job stability anyway.

The good news is that there are legal protections for someone who is working towards recovery. Let’s take a look at how the law can protect you from being fired for going to rehab.

Family and Medical Leave Act

FMLA, or the Family and Medical Leave Act, offers protection against job termination for attending rehab. According to the United States Department of Labor, an individual may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid work to attend to family or health concerns without fear of losing employment. https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/benefits-leave/fmla

The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health states that a substance use disorder falls under the category of mental health disorders and therefore is under the protection of FMLA. Treatment, or rehab, qualifies as a medical reason to seek this 12 week leave period. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK424859/ 

This protection resets annually, which can be a nice assurance in the case of a relapse or additional need for intensive services in your recovery journey. Moreover, FLMA ensures that during those 12 weeks that you are not working you’ll still have access to your group health benefits.

FLMA applies to all public agencies, all public school employees and any company maintaining over 50 employees. 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.

Confirming FMLA Eligibility

You’re eligible under the FMLA if the following apply:

  • You’ve worked for your employer at least 12 months;
  • If you have worked for a minimum of 1,250 hours over the past 12 months;
  • 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.

Just because you’re eligible doesn’t mean FLMA automatically goes into action. 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.

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ADA Protection against being fired for going to rehab

FMLA isn’t the only protection if you’re questioning “can I be fired for going to rehab?” The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, is federal law that prohibits discrimination against employees who have disabilities.

Keep in mind that an individual with a disability doesn’t include a person who is currently using illegal drugs according to the United States Department of Justice. Under the ADA, an employer can terminate an employee if he or she is using drugs or alcohol on the job, if substance use impacts performance or productivity or if substance use creates unsafe conditions on the job. https://www.ada.gov/pubs/adastatute08.pdf

Fired for Going to Rehab

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.

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.