“Can My Employer Fire Me for Going to Rehab?” Seeking Addiction Recovery While Employed
Before deciding to enter a treatment program for addiction, you need to know how to approach the situation in a manner that keeps your job safe. Between the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there are many legal requirements for receiving coverage and keeping your job. Knowing what happens after treatment and the state differences in medical coverage is also crucial. But by overcoming stigma and moving towards recovery, you can create a healthy sense of stability in both your career and your life.
“Can my employer fire me for going to rehab?”
It’s a question that many people struggling with addiction ask themselves, one that many unfortunately give up on before finding out the answer. Often, this is due to a fear of stigmatization by family, friends, and co-workers. But the reality is that it is possible to seek help for addiction without losing your job. In fact, by seeking help, you are less at risk of compromising your work life.
Making the choice to begin your recovery journey in earnest is a brave decision, one you will ultimately be grateful you made. To make the most of this positive new direction you’re about to explore, you need to know how to choose the best path in front of you and how to effectively navigate it. This includes becoming familiar with the basic ins and outs of the laws surrounding leaves of absence related to addiction treatment.
Understanding the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The FMLA is a federal legislation that allows certain employees to take up to a dozen weeks of medical leave for various reasons, including addiction treatment. But unlike the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is not paid for unless your employer chooses to cover it.
Your qualification also hinges on your employer, as they must meet the requirements listed by the FMLA. Any public agency, which includes state, federal, and local employers, must follow these requirements. If you work for a private company, you can only apply for FMLA coverage if they employ at least 50 employees for at least 20 work weeks during the current or previous year.
If your company meets these requirements, you need to meet the following:
- You must have worked for at least 12 months
- During this period, you must have worked at least 1,250 hours
- If you don’t work with at least 50 other employees at your location, you must work within 75 miles of such a location
Another important thing to remember about FMLA leaves is that they are only valid if you request one before entering a treatment facility. This means that notifying your employer after you enter one does not give you protection under this act. In addition, drug addiction treatment must be provided by a health care provider or a facility recommended by one.
Understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Since chemical dependence is considered to be a disability, the ADA can be a huge help for those struggling with addiction. If you’ve entered a treatment program, anything related to your addiction and treatment process cannot be used as a reason for termination due to the ADA. This applies even to events that cause you to miss work. Anyone fired for such reasons can file a charge of discrimination against their employer. These laws apply to local government and state employers. For private companies, those with 15 or more employees must follow the same guidelines.
Unlike the FMLA, the ADA can help certain individuals obtain funding for their time in treatment. The conditions you need to meet in order to qualify for this funding are:
- You don’t earn more than the income limit ($1,000 per month)
- The disability will last longer than one year
- Your addiction is severely impacting your work performance
Given these requirements, the ADA is best suited to those with seriously debilitating and ongoing addictions.
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What Happens After Treatment?
Once you complete your treatment, you might be required to meet certain stipulations that are outlined in a Return-to-Work Agreement (RTWA). Although this is typically used for individuals who have been approached by their employer to seek help, it can be used for any situation. In addition to the employee and employer, these agreements are created with the help of an Employee Assistance Program representative, a union representative, and addiction professionals.
The following are possible stipulations (which can vary based on the employer and state):
- Refraining from any alcohol or drug use (aside from prescriptions)
- Regular drug tests
- Adherence to recommendations by addiction professionals
- Monitoring of compliance with above requirements by company
On top of RTWA stipulations, there are other facets of coverage within addiction treatment that can vary by state.
State Differences in Medical Coverage
The biggest change within these acts as you move from state to state is the amount of medication that is covered by Medicaid. Although medication is not always essential for addiction treatment, at times it can play a huge role in the process. For example, people experiencing drug-induced psychosis or struggling with co-occurring psychotic disorders might receive an antipsychotic like Seroquel.
While moving out of state for treatment can be a scary decision, it can be beneficial not only for the changes in financial aid, but because it removes you from the social circles that are feeding into your drug use. By entering a new and refreshing environment to address your problems, you’ll be able to foster new relationships and social supports that are positive influences on your recovery.
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Overcoming Stigma and Moving Towards Recovery
So, can your employer fire you for going to rehab? In a word, no. In fact, it is in both your own best interests and that of your employer that you seek treatment for your addiction so that you may live a healthier, fuller life and be at the top of your game—both at work and at home.
While the stigma surrounding mental health and addiction can be negative, remember that comprehensive residential drug rehab are non-judgmental environments that allow you to address your issues with the support of both medical professionals and fellow recovering addicts. Receiving professional treatment means learning what your triggers are and the best ways to cope with them. You will probably come to realize that many aspects of your professional life are unknowingly feeding into your drug use. Another important part is embracing experiential and holistic therapies that promote a positive mindset conducive to recovery.
Regardless of what specific therapeutic modalities help you overcome your addiction, the goal you will be striving for remains the same: a new outlook on life and a set of tools and strategies that will help you maintain control over your addiction. While the initial treatment period may only be a temporary part of your life, it is an experience with positive effects that will last a lifetime.