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The Family Medical Leave Act and Drug Rehab

Written by Rob Alston

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Trisha Sippel, PhD

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Last Updated - 12/8/2020

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Updated 12/08/2020

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives eligible employees protected leave for serious medical issues, including getting treatment for a substance use disorder.

One of the barriers to drug treatment for a person with a substance use disorder might be concerns about how it will affect their job. The treatment process takes time and could require the person to take time off of work, especially if they choose inpatient rehabilitation services. They may struggle with how such treatment will affect their employment and the stigma that it might cause them to have in their work environment. However, taking time off work may be essential to getting the treatment they need to recover from their disorder.

In 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was enacted by the US Department of Labor to allow employees to take unpaid leave for serious medical conditions. The FMLA applies to drug rehab as well. The employee is guaranteed to keep their health insurance benefits during their leave time and is allowed to return to their same job at the end of their leave.

The Prevalence of Addiction

Substance use disorders are prevalent in the United States. Addiction statistics collected for the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that over 20 million people over the age of twelve in the United States reported having an alcohol or illicit drug use disorder in 2018. The most common substance used among those with a substance use disorder is alcohol, followed by marijuana and opioids.

According to drug addiction treatment statistics, of the people who have substance use disorders, only 10.2% of people have received addiction treatment services. There are many reasons why not very many people seek treatment for their substance use disorder.

Addressing Barriers to Addiction Treatment

The barriers to treatment that a person with a substance use disorder may experience include:

  • The cost of drug rehab
  • Addiction denial
  • Other obligations such as children or pets that someone else would need to take care of
  • The social stigma of substance use treatment
  • Fear of the treatment process
  • Concerns about privacy
  • Treatment availability in their area
  • Fear of losing their job

The Family Medical Leave Act allows people to overcome at least one barrier of addiction treatment in that it provides job stability through the process.

What Is the Family Medical Leave Act?

The Family Medical Leave Act was passed in 1993 to allow workers to take medical leave for specific family and medical reasons. The employee can take 12 weeks of unpaid leave while maintaining their health insurance and being assured that they will be able to continue their job when they get back from leave. The type of leave allowed under FMLA include:

  • Giving birth to a child and caring for them in their first year of life
  • Adopting or fostering a child, within the first year of placement in your home
  • Caring for a spouse, child or parent with a serious medical condition
  • Having a serious medical condition that makes a person unable to do the
    necessary functions of their job
  • Any urgent need resulting for an immediate family member that is an active duty military member

The Family Medical Leave Act also covers substance abuse treatment. Under the FMLA, substance abuse treatment is covered under serious medical conditions, but only if certain conditions of treatment are met.

Short Term Disability vs The Family Medical Leave Act

Short-term disability varies slightly from the Family Medical Leave Act. Both cover time off for injury or illness; however, short-term disability pays part of the employee’s salary during the time they are away from work versus the Family Medical Leave Act, which does not. FMLA only offers unpaid leave. However, FMLA provides health insurance and job protection, while short-term disability does not.

The purpose of the Family Medical Leave Act is to better balance work with the needs of a person’s family. It was put into place to give Americans job stability and access to their employee healthcare while they are going through serious personal or family health issues.

Guidelines for Using FMLA for Addiction Treatment

To use the Family Medical Leave Act for addiction treatment, the employee must first make sure that their employer is eligible to provide FMLA and that their circumstance is covered by FMLA. To certify their qualification, there are several Family Medical Leave Act forms that will need to be filled out by the employee and approved by the employer.

FMLA is provided by the federal government to employers who have 50 employees or more during 20 or more weeks of the year, with some exceptions. Employees in Florida can qualify for FMLA if their employer is covered. In addition to the federal FMLA coverage in Florida, the state also gives leave to domestic violence victims.

While some of the Family Medical Leave Act guidelines for use are outlined here, the US Department of Labor has a plethora of fact sheets to help you sort through who and what is covered by the FMLA.

Know Your Rights

Knowing what rights the Family Medical Leave Act gives to people seeking treatment for addiction will help a person to avoid discrimination against recovering addicts by their employer. An employee should determine if they qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act, given their situation. For example, part-time employees may also qualify for FMLA, depending on how many total hours they worked in a year.


The eligibility requirements for the Family Medical Leave Act include:

  • Working for an employer that is covered Has worked for the employer for a minimum of 12 months 
  • Worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months directly leading up to the leave

To qualify for FMLA for addiction treatment, there are additional requirements about the reason for FMLA leave. The person can only use leave for treatment by a healthcare provider. Their absence cannot simply be a result of their substance use. Employees that are caring for a family member who is undergoing substance use disorder treatment can also qualify for leave under FMLA.

What happens if an employee is not eligible for the Family Medical Leave Act? If an employee does not meet these requirements, they can still request time off for substance use disorder treatment. However, they may not be guaranteed health insurance or job security throughout the process.

Telling Your Employer

Telling your employer about your substance use disorder can be intimidating. You don’t want them to think differently about you or your ability to do your job. However, having open communication with your employer and showing them that you are serious about the recovery process will help show them you are responsible and taking control of your life.

When an employee requests for FMLA leave, there is an FMLA request form the employee will have to fill out. If the employer qualifies for FMLA, they will certify the request and grant an unpaid leave of absence.

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Dealing with Coworkers

When a person returns to work after time off, they are bound to get questions from coworkers as to where they’ve been. Some people may experience harassment by coworkers about their leave from the Family Medical Leave Act. It is completely up to the individual on whether or not they want to disclose their addiction treatment. By law, an employer is not allowed to discuss an employee’s health, and therefore a person’s coworkers will only hear it from them. As there can be a stigma associated with drug addiction, it is understandable if an individual would rather not discuss their treatment at work.

Choosing a Treatment Center

When using the Family Medical Leave Act leave for a substance use disorder, treatment at a healthcare facility is required in order to qualify. Choosing a drug addiction treatment center to use for a person’s treatment can be a difficult decision. To find the best drug treatment centers, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration has a national helpline that can help individuals in their decision.

Returning to Work

The Family Medical Leave Act policy guarantees that a person can take leave for medical issues and will be allowed to return to work after their leave is complete. An FMLA return-to-work form must be submitted by the employee when they are ready to return to work.

When it comes to substance use disorders, despite qualifying for leave from the Family Medical Leave Act, an employee is not necessarily safe from being fired for their substance use. If the employer has an established substance use policy that has clearly been communicated to the employees and is non-discriminatory, the employer has the right to terminate the employee for substance use. Instead, some employers may use a return to work after rehab agreement that may require periodic drug tests or continuing treatment after returning to work.

When It’s Time to Find Help

Drug addiction treatment is a long and challenging process through which people may have many barriers to overcome. Once a person is committed to recovery, the Family Medical Leave Act allows them to get the treatment they need without having to worry about how it will affect their employment later on.

If you are looking for an alcohol or drug rehab center in Florida, the Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health is here to help. Contact us today to speak with a representative about how we can help you on your road to recovery.

View Sources

United States Department of Labor. “Family and Medical Leave Act.” Accessed September 20, 2019.

United States Department of Labor. “Serious Health Condition – Leave for Treatment of Substance Abuse.” eLaws – Family and Medical Leave Act Advisor. Accessed September 20, 2019.

Rapp, Richard C.; Xu, Jiangmin; Carr, Carey A.; Lane, D. Tim; Wang, Jichuan; Carlson, Robert. “Treatment barriers identified by substance abusers assessed at a centralized intake unit.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, September 20, 2007. Accessed September 20, 2019.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. “Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables.” Accessed September 20, 2019.