Will I Lose My Job if I Go to Rehab?

Last Updated: January 2, 2024

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Federal laws like the FMLA and ADA may protect you in the workplace if you’re struggling with addiction and need to take time off for rehab and treatment.

Employers are becoming increasingly open to conversations about mental health in the workplace. Mental health includes substance use disorders. You could be in a situation where you want to get help for a substance use disorder and perhaps a co-occurring mental health disorder but aren’t sure how to bring the subject up with your boss. You may also worry about getting fired if you go to rehab. You have some protections for seeking mental health care and addiction treatment with a few limitations. What’s always most important is getting help when you need it.

How to Talk to Your Employer About Rehab

There may be a concern about the stigma when discussing mental health, especially addiction. However, learning how to have these conversations openly is part of reducing those stigmas. First and foremost, don’t pressure yourself to disclose anything you aren’t ready to. If you are going to treatment, you may need to reveal at least some information to your employer. If you talk to your employer, you are entitled to the degree of privacy you choose. You don’t have to share that you’re going to rehab unless you feel it’s appropriate. You can likely take a leave of absence for personal reasons without further explanation under the law.

If you tell your employer you’re going to rehab for drugs and alcohol, be honest about your medical decision. Discuss with your employer that you think treatment will help improve your job performance and let them know that you’d like confidentiality about your decision. Let your employer know you’re enthusiastic about returning to work when you complete rehab and know your legal rights. 

How Going to Rehab Helps Your Career

How To Protect Your Job While in Rehab

Can you get fired for going to rehab? Before approaching your boss, know you aren’t required to share your medical record. Before having a conversation, take time to learn more about your legal rights at the city, state and federal levels. You should also explore the rights your employer provides. Read about current disability and mental health protection laws. Ask your HR team if you’d like more information and if you feel comfortable doing so. Many workplace disability protections include mental health disorders. Be clear when you talk to your employer that you want to return to your position after your treatment program.

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was a 1990 civil rights law to protect people with disabilities, ensuring they have the same opportunities as others. The law categorizes substance use disorder as a disability, meaning you can’t discriminate against someone for being in recovery or for past drug use. The exception to ADA protection is people currently using illegal drugs. For example, you can lose a job if you fail a drug test under the ADA. 

Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act (MHPAEA)

The Mental Health Parity and Addictions Equity Act (MHPAEA) is a federal law that generally prevents health insurance plans and companies from imposing benefit limitations on treatment for mental health or substance use disorders compared to other medical/surgical benefits. Insurance companies can’t be any more restrictive with their coverage for substance use disorders than other medical conditions.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Under the FMLA, employees of covered employers are eligible for job-protected but unpaid leave for specific medical and family reasons. They are entitled to continue their group health insurance coverage under the same conditions had they not taken leave. Eligible employees have a guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year with no threat of losing their job. If an employee has available paid leave, they might use that first if they take time off. 

Who Qualifies for FMLA?

Eligible employees must:

  • Work for a covered employer
  • Have been working for the employer for a minimum of 12 months
  • Have worked at least 1,250 hours during those 12 months before taking leave
  • The job must be at a location where at least 50 employees work or within 75 miles of a qualifying location

Situations that may qualify for leave under the FMLA include:

  • Being unable to work because of a serious medical condition
  • A need to care for an immediate family member diagnosed with a serious medical condition
  • Birth and care of a child
  • Placement and care of a child who’s adopted or who you’re fostering

Does FMLA Protect Your Job?

Since a substance use disorder is considered a serious health condition, it can be eligible for protection under the FMLA. If you take time off for addiction treatment, your employer can’t take action against you because you sought treatment. A qualified healthcare provider must provide treatment, and if you take a leave of absence from work because of substance use rather than treatment, it’s not protected under the FMLA. FMLA leave can’t be a negative factor in any employment decisions, including firing or promotions. Under one restriction, an employer might be able to deny your reinstatement to your position if it’s highly paid and salaried if you’re a “key” employee.

When you return from FMLA leave, the employer is required to return you to the same job or one that’s nearly identical. If you’re not given the same position, the one you are returned to must offer the same general work schedule and duties. It should require the same skill, responsibility and authority level, and pay must be identical. Benefits, including health insurance, sick leave and vacation time, must be the same.

Do All Employers Have To Offer FMLA?

Not every employer has to offer FMLA under the law. The FMLA applies to employers who meet one of these specific criteria:

  • A private sector employer with 50 or more employees in 20 or more work weeks in the current or previous calendar year
  • Public agency employers at the local, state or federal level, regardless of the number of employees
  • Public or private elementary or secondary school employers, no matter how many employees

How To Find Substance Use Rehab in New Jersey

In many cases, your job is legally protected if you seek addiction treatment. Not only will recovery likely improve your job performance, but more importantly, it can save your life, making the time you take off well worth it. If you’d like to learn more about addiction treatment programs, please contact The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper. We offer levels of care, including medical detox and inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. Each of our programs is individualized and evidence-based, with delivery from a team of compassionate addiction specialists. Contact us today if you’d like to learn more or are ready to take the next step.

Sources

Jordan, DeAnna. “Should You Tell Your Employer You Have a[…]buse Problem?” U.S. News and World Report, January 20, 2017. Accessed September 12, 2022.

Riegel, Deborah Grayson. “Should You Talk To Your Boss About Your […]ental Health?” Harvard Business Review, September 7, 2021. Accessed September 12, 2022.

Joseph, Andrew. “To protect people with addiction from di[…]ool: the ADA.” Stat, June 22, 2022. Accessed September 12, 2022.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights. “Drug Addiction and Federal Disability Ri[…]y Rights Laws.” October 25, 2018. Accessed September 12, 2022.

U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. “The Mental Health Parity and Addiction E[…]Act (MHPAEA).” Accessed September 12, 2022.

American Psychiatric Association. “Mental Health Parity”>.” Accessed September 12, 2022.

U.S. Department of Labor. “FMLA Frequently Asked Questions”><[…]pa[…]ked Questions.” Accessed September 12, 2022.

U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division. “Fact Sheet #28: The Family and Medical L[…]cal Leave Act.” 2012. Accessed September 12, 2022.

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