Addiction Treatment and FMLA

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What Is FMLA?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), established in 1993, provides an individual dealing with a health crisis the protection to take a hiatus from employment. The intent of the FMLA is to acknowledge changes in society, family structures, and workplaces; as well as broaden the potential scope of care.

If you’re struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD) and want treatment, or if you need more time to care for someone in addiction treatment, you may be eligible for FMLA.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rates substance abuse as a disability, with certain restrictions:

  • An individual addicted to alcohol has a disability.
  • An individual addicted to drugs has a disability, but only if he or she “isn’t currently abusing illicit drugs.” However, the ADA protects a person who was addicted to drugs and is currently in outpatient or inpatient rehab.
  • An employer cannot discriminate against an individual with a history of substance abuse. However, ADA protections are invalid if he or she violates company policy by taking substances in the workplace, or a drug test reveals current use.

Because of the ADA definition, federal regulations classify SUD treatment as a serious health condition. This means you may request FMLA leave for rehabilitation, or to care for someone in treatment.

FMLA for Employees

If you work for an FMLA covered employer, you’re considered an eligible employee if:

  • You’re employed at the company for at least 12 months, and had 1,250 hours of service within that time, prior to a need for medical leave.
  • You work at a location where there are at least 50 employees.
    The employer is located within a 75-mile radius.

You must issue an FMLA request to your employer at least 30 days prior to your leave. If you’re a caregiver, you’re required to notify your employer as soon as possible before taking a hiatus.

In accordance with FMLA guidelines, an eligible employee receives the following in a single 12-month period:

  • Approximately 12 weeks of unpaid leave. In medical situations, this applies to using leave to deal with a serious health condition that makes it difficult to perform usual job duties; or to care for a parent, spouse, or child with health issues. If a covered military member, or caregiver of a military member, the FMLA leave extends to 26 weeks.
  • The ability to return to the same or an equivalent job at the end of your FMLA leave, otherwise known as job restoration.
  • An extension of group health care benefits, so long as the employee covers his or her usual portion of monthly premiums.

In some circumstances, an employer may require a worker to use all forms of paid leave before or during an FMLA hiatus, including accrued vacation and sick time. In addition, your request must specifically state that you’re taking FMLA.

There are also instances where you may be off only a single workday here or there under your FMLA request, but to prevent fraud, some employers often require a worker to place two calls before an absence—one to his or her direct supervisor, and another to the HR department, in order to keep track of your leave.


Under FMLA guidelines, it’s not mandatory to share medical records with an employer when placing your leave request. However, the company has a right to keep on file proof of the medical condition and recommended treatment. They may also mandate additional medical validation of your or a loved one’s need for addiction treatment.

Privacy stipulations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act prevent an employer from contacting your treatment center or healthcare provider. You’re also under no obligation to sign a medical release or waiver granting your employer access.

The details for FMLA are specific and contain few exceptions. Learn more by reviewing this fact sheet.

FMLA Guidelines for Employers

Although FMLA is a federal act, not every employer is required to provide it. According to criteria established by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), covered employers that must extend unpaid, job-protected leave to their workforces include:

  • Private or public elementary or secondary schools, regardless of the number of employees they have on staff
  • Public agencies, including federal, state, or local government entities, regardless of the number of employees
  • Private-sector employers, 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

State or municipalities may also have family leave laws, and some employers may opt to follow those. Non-covered employers may also choose to adopt FMLA leave as part of employee benefit packages.

Your Rights

Employers are required to inform all employees in writing of official policies regarding workplace expectations, medical leave, FMLA requirements, and substance abuse mandates. All employees should have easy access to these policies and be able to refer to them when issuing requests for FMLA leave. Enforceable policies must apply to all workers.

Companies retain the right to take action regarding job performance and substance abuse according to written policies. This may include termination. However, it’s against FMLA-sanctioned mandates to terminate an employee approved for medical leave to be treated for substance abuse, or fire a caregiver assisting someone with treatment.

If you have further questions regarding FMLA workers’ rights or employers’ requirements, the DOL provides extensive details through numerous fact sheets.

Contact Our Admissions Department

There are plenty of people ready to provide all the information you need regarding substance abuse treatment. For example, Cottonwood Tucson’s admission coordinators are available to help you understand the process, including assessments for care, program considerations, self-pay or insurance financial questions, inpatient vs. extended treatment, and other important facts.

Don’t let a concern about employment or finances keep you or a loved one from life-changing care: get the facts right away.

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