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How to Take Time Off Work for Rehab

If you are thinking about taking leave from work to get treatment for a substance use disorder, there are federal laws that can protect you from losing your job under certain conditions.
Not everyone with a substance use disorder is exempt from losing their job if they leave work to get treatment. Consult an attorney to address the specifics of your circumstances and confirm how the law protects you.

Explain the situation to your employer in a sincere and honest manner and request the needed time off. You may find that your employer is supportive of your desire to get help and will facilitate the process.

Substance Abuse and Work

Millions of people get treatment for addictions every year.
The number of people who get treatment is far lower than the number of people who need help with substance abuse, according to organizations like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Up to a quarter of the working population in the United States may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while at work, and the cost of substance abuse in the United States runs into the billions of dollars.
The best approach to overcoming a substance abuse problem is to seek treatment. Many people are concerned that they will be fired from their job if they take time off work to go to rehab. There are two major federal acts that protect individuals who need treatment for substance abuse.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with identified disabilities. This means that most employers cannot fire or discriminate against their employees based on the employee having a qualified disability.
Alcoholism is identified under the definition of a disability, but illicit drug use is not. Current drug or alcohol use is not protected under the act, especially if the employer can show the substance use disorder has affected your job. This means that if you have been cited for being intoxicated or under the influence at work, your rights under the ADA may not hold up.
The definition of “current” alcohol or drug use can be a bit hazy. It is possible for someone who has not been using for weeks or longer to be fired if their past work performance was deemed to be adversely affected by their substance abuse, or if they endangered other workers on the job as a result of their substance abuse.
The good news is that if you are not using alcohol or drugs and are attending rehab,  the chances are that your employer cannot fire you. Again, if there is any question regarding your rights under the ADA, you should discuss the situation with an attorney.

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The Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 requires that covered employers provide their employees with leave for qualified medical disabilities and leave for family reasons. The leave is unpaid so that you will get no money from your employer.
One of the protected reasons for taking leave is for a qualifying medical condition that interferes with your ability to perform the essential functions of your job. Seeking treatment for substance use disorders may qualify under this specification, and you could get as much as 12 weeks of unpaid leave during 12 months. If you miss work because you are using alcohol or drugs or are absent from work because of active substance use, you do not qualify under the FMLA.

Specifications for The Family Medical Leave Act

Some specifications which need to be met by you and your employer:

  • You must have been employed by your employer for a minimum of 12 months.
  • You have to have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours during the year before you can take such a leave.
  • Your employer must have 50 or more employees within 75 miles of their worksite for the FMLA to be applicable.

Additionally, protection under the FMLA does not appear to be applicable when the employer provides written information about substance abuse that is applied indiscriminately across all employees and includes provisions regarding the loss of your job if you enroll in treatment for substance abuse.

There may be further protections against being fired for attending rehab in your state. The best way to find out is to discuss the situation with an attorney or your human resources department at work.

What You Should Know

  • If you currently use illegal drugs, you will not qualify as having a disability, and your employer will be able to fire you without consequences.
  • Your employer can ban the use of illegal substances in the workplace as well as other substances that might put you or others at work in danger.
  • Your employer can require you to take a drug test for illicit substances. This is not against the policies of the ADA.
  • In most cases, your employer can fire you for using illegal drugs.

Fear of Being Stigmatized

Very often, the long-term effects of being diagnosed with substance use disorder depend on your ability to get treatment, participate in treatment, and move forward. Realizing that you often have no control over what other people think is an integral part of recovery.
Certainly, there is the potential to be stigmatized by others, including employers regarding your addiction. However, in most cases, employers understand and are sympathetic to these issues and will work with you. Try your best to explain the situation.

Tips on Approaching Your Employer

Here are some tips that may be helpful:

  • Talk to your employer as soon as you can. Be candid and upfront.
  • Learn about your company’s policies regarding substance abuse and getting treatment.
  • Be fully aware of your legal rights.
  • Do not discuss the situation with coworkers as you are putting yourself at risk for gossip and hearsay.
  • Have your treatment plan worked out before you discuss the situation with your boss.
  • Be clear about how much time you need off and why you need it.

Employee Assistance Programs

Because substance abuse is such an issue in the United States, many employers provide employee assistance programs (EAPs) to their employees. EAPs can offer services and options for mental health-related problems, including issues with substance abuse.
If your employer has an EAP, take advantage of it.

You May Not Have to Take a Leave of Absence

Before you ask for time off work, you should already have your treatment plan outlined, including arrangements with treatment providers to get into rehab.

time off for substance abuse treatment