Learn / How to Request Time off Work to Go to Rehab

How to Request Time off Work to Go to Rehab

Kayla Gill
 July 19th, 2021|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Key Points

  • The U.S. has laws protecting people’s employment as they attend rehab.
  • You may be eligible for up to 12 weeks off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
  • It’s best to approach your employer sooner, with your rights in mind.

It’s common to feel uncomfortable about asking your employer for time off to attend rehab. Many people struggle to bring the subject up with their workplace. But this could be harmful to your health and job security if it prevents you from getting any treatment you may need.

One trap people often fall into is imagining worst-case scenarios. This deters many from requesting time off to attend treatment. But remember: catastrophizing doesn’t paint an accurate picture of reality. If you need time off to focus on your mental or physical health, most employers will understand.

If you’re still on the fence, keep these points in mind:

Most workplaces agree that employee wellbeing is essential. Extensive research proves the importance of wellbeing at work.1 So while it’s natural to think the worst, putting your energy towards your recovery and health is beneficial not just for you, but for your workplace.

Public stigma around mental health issues and illnesses is decreasing. While it’s normal to worry about what others will think, the truth is that we talk more openly about mental health than ever before. Furthermore, public opinion around the matter is more positive than it is negative. If discrimination at work is still a concern, we discuss your employee rights in the next section.

You are protected by employment laws. In many cases, there are laws in place that are designed to protect your job and employment status while you seek addiction treatment. By understanding your rights as an employee, you can feel more confident about approaching your employer to discuss taking time off for treatment.

Disclaimer: this post is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice from RehabPath, nor should it be substituted as legal counsel on any subject matters.

Can I Get Fired for Going to Rehab?

If you live in the U.S., you may be entitled to take leave for addiction treatment under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). You’re also eligible for protection from discrimination against mental health conditions under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Let’s further explore how these two federal laws are intended to protect your employment.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act2 was created to “help employees balance their work and family responsibilities by allowing them to take reasonable unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons.”

Since it was enacted in 1993, FMLA has helped millions of people in the United States retain their employment while receiving treatment.

How Might FMLA Protect You for Attending Rehab?

FMLA protects people who receive addiction treatment and any family member who takes care of them during treatment.

If you have a serious health condition,3 which includes substance abuse and mental health issues that meet certain requirements, you’re entitled to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a one-year period under FMLA. FMLA also guarantees that you’re employed under the same working terms and conditions as before you left.

Additionally, you may take FMLA leave to care for a family member who is receiving addiction treatment.

You’re entitled to take FMLA-protected leave for addiction treatment, provided you use your leave time for treatment. FMLA does not cover missed work due to substance use.

We recommend checking with your employer on their FMLA policy to ensure you’re protected before you take leave. If your workplace includes a substance abuse policy with provisions on attending rehab, you might not be FMLA covered. As always, it’s best to check with HR on company policies.

Who Is Eligible to Take FMLA Leave?

You’re eligible for FMLA leave if you meet the following criteria:

  • your employer is covered
  • you’ve worked for your employer for at least 12 months (it does not have to be a consecutive 12-month period)
  • you’ve worked for a minimum of 1,250 hours over the past 12 months
  • you’re employed at a site where the company employs 50 or more workers within 75 miles

The following employers are covered under FMLA:

  • a private-sector employer with 50 or more employees
  • any private or public schools
  • any government agency

Workplaces that are FMLA-covered are required to give employees notice of this. Notices can typically be found in your new-hire paperwork, employee handbook or other policy and procedures manuals.

How to Use FMLA Leave to Attend Addiction Treatment

It’s important to follow the FMLA process for requesting leave. This helps safeguard your protection under the law. But as always, it’s best to check with a legal counselor (if possible) or your company’s HR department for specific legal information regarding FMLA.

While each employer has its own FMLA policy, the process generally looks like this:

Find out what leave-related information your workplace requires.

Most workplaces will want to know how long you’ll be in treatment. The admissions staff at your addiction treatment center will help you determine your length of stay.

Additionally, your employer might require a fitness-for-duty (FFD) certification (a certification from your health care provider which confirms that you’re able to resume work) after coming back from FMLA leave. Before you leave for treatment, they should notify you that this information will be required and provide you with a list of essential duties.

File an FMLA leave request.

If the need for leave is foreseeable, and you know when you’re going in for treatment, you must give your employer at least 30 days’ notice.

If this is your first time seeking FMLA-protected leave, you aren’t required to specifically assert your rights under FMLA or even mention FMLA, as long as you provide your employer with sufficient information that makes them aware of your need for FMLA leave.

Your employer responds to your request.

Your employer must let you know the status of your FMLA leave within five business days.

These are some other important things to know regarding your medical records and privacy protection:

  • You are not required to give your employer your medical records unless they specifically ask for it.
  • Any contact between your employer and health care provider needs to comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)4 privacy regulations. Under this rule, your direct supervisor cannot contact your healthcare provider.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

ADA was created to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities5 in all areas of public life, which includes employment.

Alcoholism and addiction that meet certain conditions are considered special-case disabilities under ADA.

How Does ADA Protect You as You Seek Addiction Treatment?

If you meet the criteria for ADA protection,6 your employer is required to make reasonable accommodations for you as you search for addiction treatment. This includes accommodating a schedule that allows you to attend treatment. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission outlines further specific information about your employment rights under ADA.7

Once you request time off to attend rehab, your employer is required to keep this information completely confidential. On top of that, you’re protected from discrimination in any future hiring processes.

Your state may provide additional protection against being fired from attending addiction treatment under the ADA law. If you can, it’s a good idea to check up on this with your HR department.

It’s important to note that, just like with FMLA, ADA doesn’t protect you if you’re currently using substances.

How to Approach Your Employer About Attending Addiction Treatment

It’s best to approach your employer about your need for treatment as soon as you can. While this may seem daunting, remember that seeking treatment is far less likely to get you fired compared to the negative impact substance use has on your work.

You might imagine worst-case scenarios about talking to your boss, but don’t let it hold you back from getting any help you may need. This type of scenario-building often prevents people from taking required action. Try to identify these scenarios for what they are: rarely rational and, oftentimes, not grounded in reality.

Many employers are sympathetic and understanding, especially because you’re actively seeking treatment. Public stigma around treatment-seeking has decreased as our knowledge of addiction has progressed. According to a National Comorbidity Survey-Replication, which compared data from the early 2000s to 2009, “stigma associated with mental health treatment decreased,8 and support among the general public for treatment-seeking increased.”

On top of that, many detox and addiction treatment centers advocate for stigma reduction and non-judgment. If you’ve found one that makes you feel comfortable and dignified, they can help empower you to reach out to your employer.

According to Laura Herrmann, Marketing and Outreach Director at Gallus Medical Detox Centers, dignity and healing are key components of their program.

“What ‘dignity and healing’ means to us is we believe everybody here is a patient with an illness who’s here to be treated. We treat everyone with the dignity and respect they should have when they enter any medical facility. We’re not here to judge. Our job is to get people better, and do it in a way that makes them feel loved and want to continue on with treatment after they leave.”

What to Say to Your Employer

Start by preparing all the necessary information for your talk. You’ll want to find out if your company is FMLA-covered and familiarize yourself with their related policies. Your employer may want to know how long you’ll be in treatment, so it’s a good idea to have an estimate in mind. A healthcare professional at your treatment center will help you outline your treatment plan, which includes length of stay. You should also know your employee rights going into your conversation.

When you approach your employer, be upfront and honest. You can speak about your struggles with addiction if you feel comfortable doing so. Highlight the steps you plan to take for recovery. You may want to craft your message in a way that explains your need for treatment. The sooner you bring this up, the better.

Addiction is a mental health issue, so if your employer is discriminatory in any way, you may be protected by the law in many cases. Knowing your rights and having a plan before going into this discussion can help you feel more at ease.

Your Recovery Benefits Everyone Around You

Your recovery is positive for everybody, including your employer. If you’re struggling with addiction, it’s best to seek treatment and notify your employer as soon as possible. Don’t wait for any issues to spiral further.

You can ensure your job security by preparing the necessary information before you speak with your employer, and by having that conversation before you attend rehab. This removes a potential external stressor so you can focus solely on your recovery while in treatment.

Finding a treatment facility you’re comfortable with is one of the most important aspects of the recovery journey. They may be able to provide you with information and resources to help you speak with your employer about attending rehab. Explore our collection of rehabs to find one that best fits your needs .

Frequently Asked Questions About Taking Time off Work for Rehab

What are my rights to take time off work for rehab?

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you’re eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for certain medical conditions, including substance abuse treatment. Not all employers are covered by the FMLA, so it’s best to check with HR or a legal professional to see if you qualify.

How do I talk to my employer about taking time off for rehab?

Be honest and direct with your employer, and emphasize the importance of your well-being. They may want to know your estimated length of stay in rehab and plans for recovery. You should find out if your company is FMLA-covered and know your employee rights going into the conversation.

What type of documentation do I need to provide to my employer for time off for rehab?

It is best to consult with your employer about required documentation for time off. Generally, they’ll need documentation from a healthcare professional outlining your treatment plan and expected length of stay. You may need to file a Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave request if your company is covered.

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