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February 10, 2023

Can You Get Fired for Going to Rehab?

Entering a treatment program can be an essential step on the path to recovery from an addiction to alcohol or another drug. Unfortunately, many people delay getting the help they need because they are worried about their job. Common concerns include: Do you keep your insurance while you’re in treatment? Will you still have a job when you complete the program? Can you get fired for going to rehab?

Can You Get Fired for Going to Rehab?

In a perfect world, the answer to the question, “Can you get fired for going to rehab?” would be a resounding NO. As you may have noticed, though, our world occasionally falls a bit short of perfection. 

Thankfully, many employees in the United States have some legal protections against being summarily fired for seeking mental or behavioral healthcare services, including rehab. However, these laws don’t grant absolute freedom for everyone to remain employed while they are getting whatever type of addiction care they choose. You need to pay close attention to which employees are protected by these laws, which employers are governed by them, and what types of services are covered.

Having said all that, it may be helpful to adjust our focus. Instead of simply asking, “Can you get fired for going to rehab?” we should take a closer look at two federal laws that may protect you if you need treatment for addiction.

Does the ADA Protect You if You Go to Rehab?

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a landmark piece of federal legislation that was signed into law in 1990. The ADA was designed to prevent people with disabilities from being discriminated against in several areas, including employment. 

In terms of using the ADA to protect your job while you are getting treatment for an addiction, it is important to understand what falls under this law’s definition of a disability.

The website of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) addresses this issue on a page titled “Substance Abuse Under the ADA.” Here are two key sentences from that page:

  • An individual who is currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs is not an individual with a disability when the employer acts on the basis of such use.
  • An employer may not discriminate against a person who has a history of drug addiction but who is not currently using drugs and who has been rehabilitated.

Did you catch the important difference between who is and is not protected by the ADA?

The first sentence refers to people who are “currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs.” In other words, if you are caught using substances in the workplace, or if you show up to work or to an interview under the influence of a substance, you cannot claim a disability as defined by the ADA.

The second sentence refers to someone who developed an addiction but who has not been under the influence of drugs at work. That person may not be discriminated against (such as being fired, punished, or denied employment) based on the fact that they need help or previously spent time in rehab. The USCCR also notes that people “who are currently participating in a rehabilitation program and are no longer engaging in the illegal use of drugs” are covered by the ADA. 

This means that, under the ADA, the disease (addiction) is a protected disability. The behavior that is associated with the disease (substance abuse) is not. 

Can You Use the FMLA to Attend Rehab?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was signed into law in 1993. As described by the U.S. Department of Labor, this law permits qualified employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the following reasons:

  • Childbirth and care of the newborn
  • Adopting a child or having a foster child placed in your care
  • Caring for a spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition
  • Serious health condition that renders the employee unable to perform essential job functions
  • Various reasons related to the active duty military services of a spouse, child, or parent

In terms of the FMLA, the answer to the question “Can you get fired for going to rehab?” is found in the fourth reason listed above. As defined by this law, the term “serious medical condition” includes addiction. Thus, if you are a qualified employee under the FMLA, you can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to attend certain types of drug addiction treatment.

To be a qualified employee, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Have worked for a covered employer for at least 12 months
  • Work at a location where your employer has 50 or more employees within 75 miles
  • Have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours over the 12 months prior to taking leave 

If your employer meets one of the following criteria, they are a covered employer and are thus governed by the FMLA:

  • Public agencies, including local, state, and federal employers and local schools
  • Private sector employers who have 50 or more employees for at least 20 weeks during a calendar year

Depending on where you live and where you work, state laws, organizational policies, and union-bargained contracts may also contain language that protects you from getting fired if you go to rehab. For a matter as important as this, be sure to take the time to thoroughly review all relevant legislation, policies, and contracts to ensure that you fully understand your options.

Begin Treatment at a Rehab in Atlanta, GA 

Inner Voyage Recovery Center is a trusted source of quality outpatient rehab services for adults in the Atlanta, Georgia, area. When you begin your recovery journey at Inner Voyage, you can expect to receive superior care from a team of skilled and compassionate professionals. When you’re ready to end your substance abuse and start living a healthier life, Inner Voyage is here for you. Give us a call or visit our admissions page today to learn more.
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