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Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for Substance Abuse Treatment Guide

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How to Use FMLA for Drug Rehab?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal labor law that requires covered employers to give their employees unpaid, protected leave for qualified medical and family reasons during which their position at the company will remain protected. One of these qualifying reasons is a serious health condition, and that includes a substance use disorder which requires the treatment of alcoholism, drug rehab, or both.1

Aside from FMLA which is a federal law, similar state-specific family leave laws may be in place, giving individuals the right to family medical leave. In the states that do not have corresponding family leave laws, the federal law will apply. Under the FMLA, in all states that have these laws and according to which employees are entitled to better benefits, employers are required to follow the state laws.2

FMLA statistics show that every year almost 15 million workers across the U.S. take FMLA leave to take care of their own health or that of a family member.3

What Is FMLA?

The FMLA came into existence in 1993 under President Clinton’s administration.4 Substance abuse can turn into a serious health condition and many individuals require inpatient care and/or continuing treatment to maintain sobriety.5 

One way to find the time to seek treatment while having a regular job is to go on a job-protected leave, which is possible under the FMLA. For a person to be eligible for FMLA leave on account of substance abuse treatment, they need a referral by a health care provider.5

Who Is Eligible For FMLA?

An individual is eligible for FMLA in the following cases:2

  • Pregnancy, birth, fostering, or adoption of a child with bonding time.
  • Self-care for a serious health condition.
  • Caregiving for a qualifying family member with a serious health condition. 
  • Caregiving for a covered servicemember with a serious health condition 
  • Qualifying exigencies, when a qualifying family member is on covered active duty or call to covered active duty status.

Types of Addiction Treatment Covered Under FMLA

There are different types of addiction treatment depending on the severity and duration of a person’s substance use disorder, namely:6

For individuals battling a co-occurring disorder, when substance use disorder co-occurs with a mental health disorder, tailored program based on the principles of effective treatment addresses both disorders simultaneously.6

How Long Can FMLA Be Used for?

FMLA enables employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for self-care or care of a family member (parent, child, or spouse). Employees are also entitled to 26 weeks of unpaid leave if they need to care for a service member with a serious injury or illness. This time period may not be long enough for individuals to achieve stable recovery.4

The duration of treatment depends on multiple factors, mainly on the severity, complexity and duration of a person’s substance use disorder as well as their history of relapse, but also on how rapidly and how steadily they make progress once they begin treatment. Long-term treatment options such as inpatient treatment in a residential setting have a higher success rate than their short-term counterparts.6

The detoxification process is typically the first stage of treatment, during which the person goes through a medically managed withdrawal. This is also the shortest component of treatment, and it is followed by rehabilitation. Some recovering individuals then proceed to enter an inpatient program, and others go to treatment in an outpatient setting.6

Do I Get Paid During FMLA Leave for Drug Rehab?

Under the FMLA, employees take unpaid leave up to 12 months in duration in the majority of cases. However, employers are required to maintain workers’ group health insurance under regular terms and conditions and employees have the right to get their jobs back when they return to work.7

Covering the costs of rehabilitation can be challenging without regular income, but many rehab facilities offer flexible payment options. Insurance may also cover the costs of rehab, partially or in full, depending on the intensity of care and the length of treatment. When insurance covers a portion of the costs, the remaining portion of the costs can be covered through private pay.8

Can the FMLA Be Used for Mental Health Treatments?

FMLA coverage includes mental health treatment, such as in case of bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression, anxiety attacks and other serious mental health events.7

Legal Rights of Employees Struggling With Substance Abuse Besides FMLA

The employer does not have the right to terminate or otherwise take action against the employee who took FMLA leave to seek substance abuse/alcoholism treatment or drug rehab. Under the FMLA, the recovering individual can return to work without fear of negative consequences.5

However, if the employer has a policy according to which employees may be terminated for engaging in substance abuse, they have the right to lawful termination of an employee who has violated that policy, even if they are currently on FMLA leave.5

An employee can also take FMLA leave to take care of a covered family member being treated for substance abuse, and the employer cannot take action against that employee.5 It may also be possible to take FMLA leave on an intermittent or reduced schedule basis, arranged so as not to disrupt the employer’s operations.7

Employees may also be entitled to protection under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. The ADA provides protection in multiple areas: employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to government-funded programs and services.9

How to Talk to the Employer About Addiction?

It’s important that employees are familiar with their rights to job-protected healthcare under federal legislation: the ADA and the FMLA.8-9 It can be frustrating to try to hold down a job while going to rehabilitation, but these laws make it possible, as many individuals undergoing substance abuse treatment are also active members of the United States workforce.5

Under these laws, employees can reach out to their employers to attempt to find an appropriate way to address substance abuse dependence through available treatment options, one that is in the best interests and within the legal rights of both sides.8-9

Unlike substance abuse which has a deep negative impact on job performance and all other aspects of a person’s life, rehabilitation correlates with positive long-term outcomes, even more so when a person has a strong support system. Employment often serves as one of the key components of the recovering individual’s support system.6

Length and Cost of Rehab During FMLA

Rehab/detox duration can vary depending on the duration and severity of a person’s substance use disorder, abused substance, pattern of abuse and propensity to relapse. Individuals with a severe substance use disorder and a long history of substance abuse, which is typically the case with a polysubstance use disorder, are more likely to require long-term treatment in order to achieve sustainable long-term outcomes.6

Costs associated with different programs, therefore, depend on program duration and other factors, primarily the intensity of care provided and the scope of services available within those programs.6

Each treatment-seeking individual is given a personalized treatment plan which determines the course and duration of treatment. Both of these depend on the progress the recovering individual is making toward recovery or setbacks such as relapse, treatment programs can be categorized duration-wise as follows:6

  • 3, 5, or 7-day detox
  • 28-30-day treatment
  • 60-90-day treatment
  • 90-120-day treatment

Returning to Work After FMLA Leave for Drug Rehab

The employee needs to follow a process to return to work safely outlined by the employer initially. This means that the employer may require complete abstinence from any and all substances except those prescribed by a doctor, as well as regular drug testing.5 

Upon return, the employee is entitled to have their original job restored or to be given an equivalent job/title with equivalent pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions.7

How Do I Apply for FMLA Leave?

When eligible employees request FMLA-protected leave for FMLA-qualifying reasons, employers are required to notify said employees of their rights and responsibilities under the FMLA. They also need to issue a notice stating whether the employee’s leave is designated as FMLA leave and how much leave will be taken from their FMLA entitlement.7

The employee is required to provide notice of the need for leave under the FMLA. They are not required to provide medical records, although the employer may request medical certification proving the validity of the health condition, in which case employees may need to take an FMLA Medical Certification Form to their health care provider and submit it to the employer.8

Find Alcohol and Drug Rehab Near You

Getting alcohol or drug treatment while being employed can be difficult to accomplish for recovering individuals, whether they require extended inpatient rehabilitation or frequent, regular attendance of sessions at an outpatient facility.6

Individuals who have a job often look for treatment centers located nearby, but the FMLA enables them to go to rehab at a remote location, if that other facility is better equipped to address substance abuse issues.6

The admission process conducted at a rehabilitation facility helps determine the level and duration of treatment a person requires.6 There are hotlines to call to learn more about treatment options, protocols, payment options, and benefits. American Addiction Centers is among private rehab facilities that can verify treatment-seeking individuals’ insurance coverage over the phone.

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The editorial staff of Projectknow.com is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands of pages for accuracy and relevance. Our reviewers consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA, NIDA, and other reputable sources to provide our readers the most accurate content on the web.
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