We all know that the first step in recovering from drug abuse or alcoholism is admitting that you have a problem; the rest is supposed to follow from there. However, the logistical problems surrounding how you will actually participate in treatment can seem insurmountable. Parents with small children, for instance, are faced with finding appropriate long-term child-care, which can be incredibly expensive.
For others, the main issue will be how to survive financially while out of work. Faced with the need to attend drug addiction treatment, either as a resident or on an outpatient basis, most people will be unable to continue working in the interim. How to maintain a job during alcohol or drug rehab is a major factor for many Americans. In almost all cases, however, deciding that keeping a job is more important than treatment will eventually backfire – untreated addicts inevitably bring their problems to work and end up either getting fired anyway or at the very least compromise the trajectory of their career.
For those fortunate enough to have ample sick time or vacation hours saved up or be covered by a short-term disability policy, time away from work may not be a financial disaster. Others, however, may have to rely on the generosity of family or friends to fill in the gaps left by missing paychecks.
However, not all employers will look favorably upon an alcoholic or drug-addicted employee. Thus, many employees who decide to go to drug or alcohol rehab will be faced with the question of whether or not their jobs will be waiting for them when they get out. Can an employer really fire you while you are away getting treatment?
The answer depends on who the employer is, along with the particular situation faced by the employee. In all cases, active drug use can often be a valid reason for firing an employee. For example, if an employee misses work for several days as a result of addiction, the job would not be protected. Nor would it be protected if he showed up high or drunk. However, what if you are not actively using?
Many employers will either have favorable policies with regard to employee retention after substance abuse treatment, or will be under union contract to treat the employee in a certain way. For those without clear guidelines, the Family and Medical Leave Act can often fill in the gaps.
According to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), an employee can get up to 12 weeks of leave (either paid or unpaid) every 12 months in order to handle a serious health condition that prohibits him from working. This includes entering rehab, as long as there are no independent reasons for firing the individual (such as poor performance due to active addiction or alcoholism).
Once an employee is granted a leave of absence, the employer must protect the position until the authorized period of leave expires. More importantly, however, the employer must maintain the employee’s health insurance coverage (albeit at the employee’s expense). The problem with the FMLA is that it applies only to companies that employ fifty people or more. The rules surrounding the implementation of a FMLA-based leave are also complicated and can cause a person to lose coverage if details get missed. If you are considering entering drug rehab during a leave of absence from work, consult with an employment lawyer in your state in order to maximize your chances of keeping your job.