A Guide to Rehab & Treatment using the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

FMLA - Guide to Rehab & Treatment

Addiction continues to be a serious problem in the United States. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, up to 76 percent of people with problematic drug and alcohol use are employed in the US. Unfortunately, nearly half of those with substance abuse issues neglect seeking treatment, in fear of it ruining their career. Drug and alcohol addiction is a health-related problem filled with stigma. Far too many people choose to live with these life-altering conditions, rather than seeking treatment.

Drug and alcohol addiction is now being treated medically as a disease. Federal laws have even expanded to provide employment protection for people suffering from addiction using the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If you or someone you know is currently addicted to or abusing drugs and/or alcohol, please seek treatment as soon as possible. Taking this step towards sobriety is best before life responsibilities and job performance starts becoming affected by addiction. Many do not know that addiction and substance abuse issues are covered under FMLA. Let’s look at how FMLA can help during the addiction treatment process.

What is FMLA?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides leave, as much as 12 weeks, annually, for all qualified workers. Important to note is this protects not only jobs but also ensures that group health plan benefits remain active during this absence. Keeping health insurance during this time of recovery is crucial as it may significantly help with the financial responsibilities of addiction treatment.

FMLA also enables employees to balance their responsibilities to work and family by allowing reasonable unpaid leave for family health reasons. It also accommodates employers’ rights and interests, while also encouraging equality between men and women in the workplace.

Who is FMLA for?

US Department of Labor states that FMLA will apply to all government agencies, public and private schools and also to businesses having 50 or more employees.

Employers are required to provide as much as 12 weeks of leave, unpaid, yearly, for employees meeting required tenure with the company for:

  • personal medical leave if unable to function due to severe health problem(s) (this is where FMLA covers addiction)
  • providing care of an immediate family member (child, spouse or parent) with a severe medical condition
  • the birth and care of a newborn child
  • placement of a child non-biological parent care (adopting/fostering)
  • taking over parental duties – in loco parentis

Am I Eligible For FMLA?

U.S. Department of Labor states the criteria for workers eligible to use FMLA leave are as follows:

  • worked for the employer more than 12 months overall, not concurrent
  • worked a minimum of 1,250 hours over the past 12 months
  • company has 50 or more employees in the surrounding area of 75 miles

Note: calculating the required 1,250 hours of work is assessed according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) guidelines of reimbursable hours of duty. Absent days during the last 12 months will count against the 12 weeks of family and medical leave.

Specific military family leave guidelines, first added in 2008 to FMLA, offer benefits unique to military families.

Going to Rehab and Treatment under FMLA

The steps to sobriety generally begin with detox. If there is the recent use of dangerous drugs or alcohol dependency, clinically administered detoxification is the safest way to ensure withdrawal symptoms are handled with care. During detoxification, the body is cleared of drugs and alcohol toxins. Detox is essential to handling acute and possibly harmful stimulation effects of removing these substances. Detoxification on its own does not resolve the underlying issues of addiction. Behavioral problems along with social and psychological issues common during addiction. Detox does not usually yield long-term changes in the addictive behaviors that are important to rehabilitation. Following detoxification, a formal evaluation and transfer to drug and alcohol addiction care are imperative to recovery.

Types of Treatment Facilities for Drug and Alcohol Rehab:

  • Long-Term Residential Treatment – 24 hour a day care, usually away from a hospital, with a stay between 3 months and 1 year.
  • Short-Term Residential Treatment – 2 weeks to 2 months of inpatient treatment with outpatient and group therapy afterward.
  • Outpatient Treatment Programs – counseling groups, programs are
    developed to diagnose and treat individuals with mental or medical health diagnosis alongside addiction to alcohol or drugs.
  • Individual Counseling – focuses on preventing the use of illegal drugs or alcohol. Addresses similar areas of dysfunctional activity sometimes through 12-step meetings. Therapists meet one to two days a week, to make referrals for necessary medical, psychiatric, employment and other services.
  • Group Counseling – therapy groups to use the positive support provided by peer review and to help promote a drug-free lifestyle and behaviors.
How Long Will I Be Out Of Work for Rehab?

Take a preliminary assessment to understand the extent of the issues around addiction. Developing this knowledge before treatment can help determine the treatment path. Only an addiction professional can establish the length necessary for a successful recovery. Following through during each step of the process is critical to successfully using FMLA for addiction treatment. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has determined that approximately 40% – 60% of recovering addicts relapse. Completing all phases of recovery and therapy is imperative to successful addiction treatment.

Note: Claims for substance abuse treatment under FMLA are restricted and require a referral from a health care provider.

Role of FMLA during Rehab

Addiction not only affects the addict, but it also affects family, friendships, and co-workers. Responsibilities are also affected during this time of chemical dependence. Whether it’s home-based or workplace responsibilities, addiction can prevent positive productivity. Facing these issues and destructive behaviors before all is lost is where FMLA can stand in as a proxy. This allows individuals to seek help while also being able to resume life as it was before addictive behaviors became a problem.

Common questions regarding FMLA:

  • Does rehab affect my job?
  • Is rehab covered under FMLA?
  • How to speak to a Human Resource Department regarding leave under FMLA?
  • How long can FMLA leave be?
  • What are the FMLA guidelines for rehab?

Becoming aware of rights in the workplace, the stigma attached to substance abuse, and the advantages FMLA provides during recovery makes understanding this information important.

Awareness is guided by the U.S. Department of Labor in its FMLA guidelines for employers requiring the display of FMLA materials and posters to provide general notice to employees.

Can I Request FMLA Leave for Treatment?

First, check FMLA eligibility of the employer. Next, forms are available through the U.S. Department of Labor for health conditions. Use the WH-380-E Certification of Health Care Provider for Employee’s Serious Health Condition for addiction rehab and treatment. These forms include sections and instructions required for the employer, employee, and health care provider to be filled out. Employees may also apply for an FMLA leave via a Human Resources department or Union representative where available.

The FMLA Act preserves privacy and the reason for applying for leave under FMLA can be kept confidential. Telling an employer specifically that FMLA is required for addiction treatment is not necessary. However, enough details from a health care physician’s recommendation of excused time away from the workplace may be needed.

Note: Some FMLA requests may be denied without adequate information.

How to Request FMLA from an Employer

Here are some tips on speaking to an employer about leave under FMLA for addiction treatment.

Should I notify the employer of leave written or verbally?

  • Schedule a time to discuss this leave with the employer verbally. Request a meeting allowing somewhere between 15 to 30 minutes of privacy.
  • Prepare a typed and printed letter discussing this leave.
  • Prepare an email discussing leave.

Note: If workplace privacy is a concern, find an off-site location to speak. Sending an email only to the superior also reduces the concerns of privacy.

Do I have to tell my employer exactly why I am using FMLA?

  • Remember not all the details about going to rehab are required, this process is to specifically notify the employer of using FMLA for leave.

What’s the best way to approach this issue?

  • Being open and straightforward usually allows the supervisor to be more willing to listen.
  • Telling an employer this decision will be beneficial following the leave of absence.
  • Be honest about what you would like work to know, but avoid acknowledging any mistakes made while at work.
  • Any details you provide to your employer concerning your health is private.
  • A great way to secure a reinstatement is to prepare for your absence. Share how you can help your co-workers while you are away.

Returning to Work After FMLA Leave

Following the term of FMLA, returning to the workplace is the responsible thing to do. Under the protection of FMLA, a company must restore the same or similar position that was held before leave was taken. A similar position is considered one that provides equivalent pay, benefits and work environment. The role is required to either be identical or must also be considered close in responsibilities and the degree of necessary skills. This is to discourage punishment from employers to employees from the use of FMLA. A company may not terminate an employee for using FMLA. However, if disciplinary sections were being taken before FMLA, they can still be grounds for termination of an employee.

FMLA also provides time limits to which the company must restore the position. Reinstatement must be granted based on the return date given to the employer. Return must be given in advance.

Ideally, once you come back, you should be able to take time off for counseling or group sessions to continue your rehabilitation. (FMLA allows for intermittent leave and/or a reduced schedule, up to the 12-week limit) You are expected to participate in these activities during the intervals that are the least disturbing to your workday. You may also reenter the workplace, part-time after your FMLA leave if you need to continue the rehabilitation process on an occasional basis.

Quick Recap of Facts about FMLA
  1. FMLA helps workers manage the burden of their work with the need for health and family responsibilities. FMLA also applies requirements to businesses to enforce compliance within the law.
  2. FMLA extends only to specific businesses, including private industry employers with 50 or more workers, all government organizations, and all public and private schools, regardless of size.
  3. Only certain staff members can qualify for FMLA. For qualification of FMLA, an employee must be employed by a business with 50+ employees and tenured a position (can be a variety of positions held by the employee) for at least 12 (non-concurrent) months.
  4. In certain circumstances, including the birth and care of a newborn or newly adopted infant, the FMLA requires businesses to provide qualified workers with up to 12 weeks of FMLA time, over a 12-months. (in the case of care and bonding with an infant, if both parents work for the same company, they may be required to share those 12-weeks) Also covered are members of immediate family with a severe health issue and also when the employee is incapable of working due to serious illnesses.
  5. The mentioning of FMLA is not required when an original request for leave based on a qualified FMLA reason.

There are also some protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Here are a few examples (source: Substance Abuse under the ADA)

A former drug addict may be protected under the ADA because the addiction may be considered a substantially limiting impairment.(12)

Individuals who abuse alcohol may be considered disabled under the ADA if the person is an alcoholic or a recovering alcoholic.(40)

The duty to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities is considered one of the most important statutory requirements of the ADA.(58) Reasonable accommodation for an alcoholic would generally involve a modified work schedule (59) so the employee could attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, or a leave of absence (60) so the employee could seek treatment.

Qualified individuals under the ADA include those:

  • who have been successfully rehabilitated and who are no longer engaged in the illegal use of drugs (9)
  • who are currently participating in a rehabilitation program and are no longer engaging in the illegal use of drugs (10)
  • who are regarded, erroneously, as illegally using drugs(11)

Start the process of recovering from addiction today. Talk to our admissions department today. Whether you have questions on FMLA, eligibility, treatment or returning to work after FMLA leave, please call us at (866) 425-4673

Important Resources:

FMLA Forms
FMLA Leave Eligibility
Employers FMLA Guide
Substance Abuse under the ADA

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