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Talking to Your Employer About Addiction Treatment

Talking to Your Employer About Addiction Treatment

Many people have concerns about getting drug or alcohol treatments, which often create a barrier to taking progressive action on their health. One major inhibition for delaying necessary care is a fear of losing their job if they go to rehab. Fortunately, federal protections and specialized program offerings by some rehabilitation facilities make it easier to talk to your employer about addiction treatment

How the ADA and FMLA Enable Your Health 

Two essential federal protections help people gain access to the time they need for medical care, including addiction rehabilitation: The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). 

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights indicates that “Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act specifically permits employers to ensure that the workplace is free from the illegal use of drugs and the use of alcohol, and to comply with other federal laws and regulations regarding drug and alcohol use. At the same time, the ADA provides limited protection from discrimination for recovering drug abusers and for alcoholics.”

Here are some key points regarding ADA protection from the Commission, which we provide verbatim: 

  • The ADA provides that any employee or job applicant who is currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs is not a qualified individual with a disability. Therefore, an employee who illegally uses drugs whether the employee is a casual user or an addict is not protected by the ADA if the employer acts on the basis of the illegal drug use
  • An employer does not violate the ADA by uniformly enforcing its rules prohibiting employees from illegally using drugs.
  • The ADA protections are invalid if someone violates clear company policies by taking substances in the workplace or failing a drug test.

However, ADA-qualified individuals include people:

  • Who’ve been successfully rehabilitated and who are no longer engaged in the illegal use of drugs.
  • Who are currently participating in a rehabilitation program and are no longer engaging in the illegal use of drugs. 
  • Who are regarded, erroneously, as illegally using drugs.

The ADA guidelines allow for substance abuse rehabilitation or caring for someone in treatment to be eligible for an FMLA medical hiatus because it categorizes these conditions as disabilities. However, it’s critical to understand the specific qualifications of the Act:

  • Someone with alcohol or drug addiction has a disability.
  • While current illicit drug use isn’t permitted, the ADA laws protect a person who was addicted to substances but is currently in outpatient or inpatient rehab.
  • It’s unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an individual with a history of drug or alcohol addiction.

Talking to Your Employer About Addiction Treatment 

Certain workplaces, known as “covered employers” allow for an FMLA medical absence. Covered employers include:

  • Private-sector companies, with a minimum of 50 employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, “including a joint employer or successor in interest to a covered employer.”
  • Public entities, including local, state, or federal government agencies, regardless of the number of employees.
  • Public or private elementary or secondary schools, regardless of the number of employees on staff. 

Some employers might also be required to follow specific state-mandated family leave laws. Additionally, non-covered employers may include an FMLA option as part of a greater benefits package. So it’s vital to review your company’s policies to determine what’s available to you. 

Under federal FMLA guidelines, covered employers should provide:

  • Approximately 12 weeks of “unpaid, job-protected leave.” You can use FMLA time off to handle serious health conditions that make it challenging to perform expected job duties; or to care for a spouse, child, or parent with medical issues. 
  • Roughly 26 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave if you’re a covered military member or the caregiver of someone in the armed services.
  • Work release for your or a family member’s substance abuse treatment and follow-up care—but only if someone isn’t actively using illegal drugs.
  • Job restoration, which is the ability to “return to the same or an equivalent job at the end of your FMLA leave.” However, there are a few policy limitations, so make sure to review the fact sheets carefully before discussing your situation with your supervisor and the company human resources department.

There are numerous stipulations involving using FMLA for treatment: 

  • FMLA employment permissions aren’t available if someone is currently misusing alcohol or drugs or suffering the effects of this abuse. There are no exceptions.
  • But, if you’re undergoing treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) or alcohol use disorder (AUD) that’s medically authorized and supervised, it’s classified as a serious health condition. 
  • While you’re not required to share medical records with your employer to obtain leave, it’s your responsibility to provide a quantifiable medical certification justifying your need for the FMLA leave.
  • Your employer may also be within rights to request a second or even third medical opinion of your need for SUD treatment. These follow-up consultations are paid for by the employer. 
  • Your employer doesn’t have the right to contact your health provider or treatment center, and it cannot request you sign a waiver or release. 

Another Option: Great Oaks’ Ready-to-Work Program

At Great Oaks Recovery Center outside of Houston, Texas, we offer individuals another treatment solution known as the Ready-to-Work program. The Ready-to-Work program provides comprehensive care and case management for people struggling with SUD, AUD, and co-occurring mental health challenges. Our board-certified clinical team creates a treatment alliance between employees and employers to support a sustainable transition back to a productive workplace relationship. Ask our admissions team about how the Great Oaks’ Ready-to-Work program might benefit you, your loved one, or an employee.