Can my employer fire me for going to rehab?
Going to rehab can be the only way to save your job sometimes. Even if you are not using or drinking on the job, substance abuse can take a heavy toll on work performance. However, once an addict or alcoholic realizes they have a problem, they may be afraid they will get fired if they get help. It’s like being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
However, many addicts and alcoholics are ignorant about their own rights. The truth is that while addicts will have plenty to worry about if they quality of their work declines due to drug and alcohol use, those who are willing to get help are protected under two federal laws: the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave act.
Can my employer fire me for going to rehab? The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
In general terms, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects an employee from disability discrimination is the employee has a disability and the employee is qualified for his or her position with or without reasonable accommodation. Note that ADA only applies to an employer that has more than 15 employees.
Chemical dependency is considered a disability. However, there is an exception for employees that are currently abusing drugs and/or alcohol. If the drug and alcohol use affects job performance, that can be grounds for termination. Basically, the law looks to the moment of actual termination to determine whether the employee is a current drug or alcohol abuser. It does not look at past transgressions due to drug and alcohol abuse. So if a person seeks drug and alcohol treatment voluntarily before they are fired, they cannot be fired for past errors or omissions due to drug and alcohol use.
Also, as long as they are performing their duties adequately and are not endangering anyone, an alcoholic who has not yet entered treatment cannot be fired even if their employer becomes aware of his or her condition (drug addicts don’t enjoy this protection because they are using illegal substances).
The ADA also protects new employees. Potential employers are not allowed to ask about past drug or alcohol abuse or treatment for drug and or alcohol dependency.
Can my employer fire me for going to rehab? Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to grant their workers a minimum of twelve (12) weeks of paid or unpaid leave in a calendar year. The only stipulation is that employees must have a legitimate health-related reason for requesting this time off, but the good news for addicts is that drug and alcohol treatment is considered to be a legitimate health-related reason under the standards established by the FMLA. So you cannot be penalized for asking for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act in order to attend substance abuse treatment. If you are granted leave under this act and are receiving treatment, you cannot be fired during this time. Also, when you come back, you are guaranteed a position at the same level of salary and benefits as you had before you took the leave. Absences because of an employee’s use of a substance, rather than for treatment, do not qualify for FMLA leave.
The only caution is that FMLA has a formal process for requesting a leave of absence. So anyone who commits to a treatment facility first then tells their employers about it afterwards is not protected under this law.
To qualify for the FMLA mandate, a worker must be employed by a business with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of his or her worksite, or a public agency, including schools and state, local, and federal employers (the 50-employee threshold does not apply to public agency employees and local educational agencies). He or she must also have worked for that employer for at least 12 months (not necessarily consecutive) and 1,250 hours within the last 12 months.
If you or your loved one is in need of treatment for alcohol or drug addiction please give us a call at 800-821-9584.