Resources for Workers: FMLA & Addiction Treatment

Addiction is a disease that does not discriminate, affecting individuals equally no matter whether they are on the streets or in the C-suite. Across the board, roughly 10% of all Americans struggle with substance abuse, and that number is nearly identical when it comes to people working full-time jobs. In some industries, that number is even higher, with food service industry workers experiencing a 16.9% rate of addiction, for example, and construction workers seeing rates of addiction as high as 14.3%. Overall, drug and alcohol addiction are a huge problem for the American economy and its workers, resulting in $120 billion in lost productivity per year.

If you are one of the millions of American workers struggling with addiction, you definitely are not alone. In fact, the U.S. government has put laws in place to help and protect people just like you. Because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, for example, you can’t be fired just because you struggle with addiction. You can be fired once it starts affecting your performance, which is why you might want to consider getting help before it’s too late. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can help you do just that. Here’s how to take time off from work to get addiction treatment, using the FMLA.

What is the FMLA?

The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 is a federal law that allows U.S. workers up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to take care of their health or that of a family member. In short, it ensures that you can take time off of work due to health concerns without fear of losing your job.

Of course, there are a series of requirements that you must meet in order to take advantage of FMLA. First, not all employers and workers are covered. FMLA may be in effect if you:

  • Work for a “covered employer”: Your employer must employ more than 50 employees for twenty or more work weeks in the last calendar year. Government agencies and schools are also covered.

  • Have worked for your employer for 12 months or more: These months do not have to be consecutive.

  • Have worked at least 1250 hours for your employer in the last twelve months

  • Work in an area where your employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles

Ask your manager or HR rep about the specifics for your company, or check your employee handbook. There are many exceptions and in some cases, your leave under FMLA may even be paid.

If you meet those basic requirements, then you may be able to pursue addiction treatment under FMLA.

Substance Abuse & FMLA Leave

According to the federal regulation “substance abuse may be a serious health condition” that is covered by FMLA if certain conditions are met. First, “FMLA leave may only be taken for treatment for substance abuse by a health care provider or by a provider of health care services on referral by a health care provider.” Put simply, you can’t take FMLA leave just to go to AA meetings. In addition, you may not take FMLA leave because of your “use of the substance, rather than for treatment.” FMLA requires that you pursue reputable, comprehensive addiction treatment in order to be covered. In most cases, that means residential addiction treatment.

Once you do make the decision to enter treatment, the law is clear: An “employer may not take action against the employee because the employee has exercised his or her right to take FMLA leave for substance abuse treatment.” Some employers are allowed to have blanket termination policies regarding substance abuse itself, however. For example, pilots, truckers, and others in the transportation industry are highly regulated when it comes to the use of substances. For that reason, it’s important that you approach your request for leave thoughtfully to ensure that you are protected.

At Acqua Recovery, we have helped countless individuals transition from full-time work to treatment and back again. Give us a call to talk through your options and find out whether you would in fact be covered by FMLA. If you do decide to enter addiction treatment, we can even help you handle the conversation with HR or your manager, to ensure that you enter addiction treatment safely and swiftly so that the healing and renewal can begin. Get started today.

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