Developing an addiction takes time and working to overcome one takes time as well.

When employees who need treatment learn they will have to take some time off from work to enter rehab, they may immediately become concerned about missing work and what that means for their financial stability.

These are valid concerns.

Many people think of what going to rehab means for their paycheck and stop considering treatment out of fear of losing their jobs.

However, for some people, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) prevents that from happening. The federal regulation ensures that people who receive addiction treatment have a job to return to when they have completed their time in rehab.

What is the Family and Medical Leave Act?

The Family and Medical Leave Act is a federal law that guarantees that employees who meet certain criteria are eligible for up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave each year with no threat of losing employment. It took effect in February 1993. As Findlaw explains, FMLA also requires employers that are covered by the law to keep health benefits in place for eligible workers as if they were still working.

Eligible employees can take FMLA leave for:

  • The birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth
  • The placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement
  • To care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition
  • A serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job or
  • Twenty-six workweeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the service member’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin (military caregiver leave).

Treatment for substance abuse and addiction falls in the category of “a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job.”

Addiction, as defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. NIDA also says that addiction isn’t curable but treatable, which means that seeking professional treatment is vital to the health of anyone who is struggling with substance abuse.

The federal agency recommends that addiction treatment lasts for at least 90 days, or three months to improve their chances of having a successful recovery. To take at least three months away from work to focus on addiction recovery, many people will need the assistance of the FMLA if they are eligible. Under the FMLA, an employee can return to work after addiction treatment and be restored to their original job or one that is equivalent to the job they had.

Who is Eligible for FMLA?

Not everyone is eligible for FMLA, so it’s important to know what’s what. There are rights and responsibilities under the law, and it is important to understand how the law works and who it applies to.

If you or a loved one needs addiction treatment and there is uncertainty about whether FMLA applies to your situation, first check to see if you are covered by FMLA.

To be eligible for FMLA, a person:

  • Must work for an employer that is covered by the FMLA. A covered employer is
  • Must have worked for their current employer for at least 12 months
  • Must have at least 1,250 hours of service for the employer in that 12-month period immediately preceding leave (156 eight-hour workdays)
  • Must work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles

To get the provisions that apply in your state, meet with the Human Resources department at your company or with a legal professional to make sure you are meeting the criteria.

Providing Proof to Support Your FMLA Request

Before your employer can grant you FMLA leave for a serious health condition (or a covered family member’s serious health condition), it may ask you to provide proof to support the request for leave. The law does allow employers to request that employees present medical certification from a health care provider as proof that supports their request to take leave. An employer is also allowed to require second or third medical opinions at the employer’s expense, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Here are some things to know concerning FMLA medical certification.

  • Employers must notify employees each time a medical certification is required. The department also writes, “The employer’s notice must be included in the written notice of FMLA rights and responsibilities given to the employee when leave is first requested. The employer may request certification at a later date if it questions the appropriateness of the leave or its duration.”
  • If the employer requests medical certification, the employee is responsible for providing a complete and sufficient certification within 15 calendar days after the employer’s request. It is the employee’s responsibility to cover the costs of the medical certification and make sure the employer receives it.

In its guide, “The Employer’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act,” the U.S. Department of Labor writes “a complete and sufficient certification need only include the following information:

  • Contact information for the health care provider, including name, address, telephone number, fax number, and type of medical practice/specialty
  • When the serious health condition began
  • How long the serious health condition is expected to last
  • If the employee is the patient, whether the employee is unable to work, and the likely duration of this inability
  • If a family member is a patient, whether the family member needs care, and an estimate of the frequency and duration of the leave required to care for the family member
  • Whether the employee’s need for leave is continuous or intermittent
  • Appropriate medical facts about the condition.

It is important to note that medical certification of a serious health condition does not require you or your loved one to provide personal medical records to the employer.

What Happens if the FMLA Medical Certification is Incomplete?

If the certification is incomplete (if one or more applicable entries have not been completed) or found insufficient (if the information is vague, ambiguous, or nonresponsive), the employer must issue a written notice that includes what information is needed to make the certification complete and sufficient. In most circumstances, according to the department, the employee must provide this information within seven calendar days.

The department advises employers to request certified proof within five days of receiving an employee’s FMLA request.

Papers with the label FMLA on the cover page


The department writes, “If the employee does not provide the requested certification within the time required or fails to provide a complete and sufficient certification despite the opportunity to cure any deficiencies, the employer may deny the employee’s request for FMLA leave.”

While the FMLA does not require employees to use a specific form to obtain certification, employers can provide employees with optional-use forms that the U.S. Department of Labor provides. Among those forms are the WH-380-E, which is the Certification of Health Care Provider for Employee’s Serious Health Condition, and the WH-380-F, which is the Certification of Health Care Provider for Family Member’s Serious Health Condition.

3 Things the FMLA does not do

The FMLA gives employees in need of addiction treatment the time needed to care for themselves and pursue the health and sobriety they need to live their best life. But there are some things the law does not do, and workers who are eligible for the leave should know what these things are.

The FMLA does not apply to employees who currently use drugs. A person who uses drugs and alcohol (and/or other addictive substances) should not miss work or be absent from work because this is not covered under the law. FMLA leave covers only treatment for substance use.

The FMLA does not provide paid leave for the time an employee is on leave. It only provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave for employees who take it. This means that employees who use FMLA leave to cover their time in rehab will have to ensure they can take care of their financial responsibilities with other income. However, it may be possible to used accrued paid leave, such as sick days and vacation days, during FMLA leave. Employers are not legally required to offer paid leave. Check with your company’s HR department to find out what arrangements can be made to address your situation.

The FMLA does not guarantee that you will have the same job you had before when you return. The law only requires that employers reinstate employees when they return from leave. However, employees who take FMLA are not guaranteed to get their old job back upon returning. The U.S. Department of Labor offers guidance about this in its section titled “Restoration” in “The Employer’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act. “When an employee returns from FMLA leave, he or she must be restored to the same job that the employee held when the leave began or to an ‘equivalent job.’ The employee is not guaranteed the actual job he or she held before the leave,” the department writes. “An ‘equivalent job’ means a job that is virtually identical to the original job in terms of pay, benefits, and other employment terms and conditions (including shift and location).”

Addiction Treatment is the Next Step

Addiction is a complex disease that changes the structure and functioning of the brain. Depending on the severity of one’s substance dependence, patience is needed as one relearns everyday tasks and healthy behaviors. If you have determined that you are eligible for leave under the FMLA, and have been cleared to take it, your next step is to enter a drug or alcohol addiction treatment program where you can take the necessary steps to sobriety and a healthy well being.

Treatment programs at Delphi Behavioral Health Group’s facilities provide unique therapy and counseling methods that can help you recover from substance abuse. Our treatment centers provide an oasis for the community, counseling, and support for our clients in recovery and their families. Give us a call to discuss your or your loved one’s options today at 855-691-0720.

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