Struggling with an addiction to drugs and alcohol is a worldwide disease. Every country in the world feels the grip of addiction on its citizens. A decade ago, it was estimated that 35 million people in the world smoked methamphetamine, and that number grows each year.
In 2018, nearly two million people in the US abused methamphetamine, over six million abused cocaine or crack cocaine, and some 43 million people used marijuana. Statistics showed that over 60 percent of people over the age of twelve (nearly 197 million) were abusing illegal drugs, alcohol, or tobacco that same year. Over 20 million people and their families, and more people are diagnosed every day. As recent as 2017, addiction cost the country over $735 billion dollars in medical costs, efficiency in the workplace, and crime.
Addiction is pervasive and disastrous. It affects all aspects of a person’s life. Unfortunately, the solution is complicated and rarely easy. There are so many considerations; Where to go? What kind of program to choose? Who will pay the bills while I’m away at treatment? and, Is attending rehab going to get me fired?
When it comes to employment, there are protections in place for individuals in need of a leave of absence for medical reasons, commonly called The Family Medical Leave Act. Addiction is a recurring disease and qualifies as a medical issue.
Addiction Treatment Disparities
In the United States, only about one in ten people in need of rehab actually receive treatment.
There are a multitude of reasons that people who struggle with addiction do not get the help they need, such as:
- “I can’t afford it”
- “I don’t have time to go to rehab”
- “Who will take care of my house?”
- “I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills”
- “Who will care for my children/pets/responsibilities?”
- “I don’t want everyone knowing my problems”
- “I don’t need treatment, I don’t have a problem”
- “I don’t know where to start looking for rehab”
- “I tried rehab before, it doesn’t work on me”
- “I will lose my job if I go to rehab”
While some of these concerns may be reasonable, they do not have to stop a person from seeking substance abuse treatment, especially when a program can guide them into recovery.
The FMLA offers employment protection to employees who meet the criteria. This means that an employer cannot terminate your employment simply because you need to take some time off to attend a substance abuse treatment program.
Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – Defined
In 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act was put in place to offer eligible employees up to twelve weeks per year of unpaid, protected leave from work in specific medical or family situations.
Some FMLA approved circumstances for these twelve weeks include:
- Caring for a child from birth up to one year of age (twelve weeks to be taken within 12 months of birth)
- Adopting or foster care child being placed in your care, up to one year of initial placement
- To care for an immediate family member who has a serious medical issue
- Military caregiver leave
- If you have a serious medical condition that affects your ability to do your job
Addiction is a serious medical issue and is therefore covered by FMLA.
How Do I Know If I Am FMLA eligible?
Whether or not you qualify to participate in the FMLA depends on a few eligibility criteria. FMLA requires that you have been an employee of your current employer for the previous 12-month period, and accumulate a specific number of work hours.
The employment does not need to be twelve consecutive months, and the hours do not need to be accumulated consecutively.
FMLA also requires that the company you work for employs at least 50 people in a 75-mile radius.
Employees are encouraged to give employers as much notice as possible when they are attempting to use FMLA and to supply enough information to the employers to determine if the situation meets the criteria for an FMLA qualified leave of absence.
Will I Get Paid While On FMLA Leave?
It is not mandatory for an employer to offer paid leave if someone is taking a leave of absence under FMLA. In some cases, employers offer a paid leave of absences, but that is usually outlined during the initial hiring process.
The FMLA is intended only to protect employees from being terminated for needing to take a leave up absence for up to twelve weeks. The employer is required to hold a person’s position or offer them a comparable position with equal pay.
How Do I Notify My Employer Of My Leave?
Employees should give employers as much advance notice as possible, and provide documentation to support the FMLA request. While not mandatory, the U.S. Department of Labor webpage for the FMLA has a number of FMLA documents that will help employees document the proof needed for an FMLA request.
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Employers cannot deny an FMLA request simply because it is not submitted on an FMLA document. As long as the document supplies the necessary information, it is an acceptable format. Letters on letterhead from a provider are one example of appropriate documentation.
Is FMLA Part Of The ADA?
The short answer to this question is, no, the FMLA is not a part of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The purpose of the ADA is to protect disabled workers and ensure that they are granted the same set of circumstances as individuals who do not have disabilities.
Employers are not allowed to discriminate against individuals who are disabled, and employers must supply adequate accommodations to complete their work obligations, by law.
The reason this is so important in regards to addiction is that both alcoholism and drug addiction are considered disabilities under the ADA. While they are both qualifying disabilities, the guidelines for alcoholism and drug addiction have some important differences.
Alcoholism And The ADA
The ADA considers a person with alcoholism is a person with a disability, and therefore protected by the ADA, with some specifications unique to alcohol addiction. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) outlines alcoholism and the disabilities that alcoholism can cause.
A person who drinks alcohol cannot be deemed ineligible for ADA protections for consuming alcohol. A person diagnosed with the disease of alcoholism can be protected by the ADA if they can continue to fulfill the role they were hired to do, even if accommodations are necessary.
Employers are not required to allow employees with alcoholism to consume alcohol or be under the influence of alcohol at work, although there are some accommodations the employer may need to provide, to help someone struggling with alcoholism.
The following are a brief list of impairments that an employee with alcoholism may develop and need accommodations to help them do their job:
- decrease in stamina
- increased fatigue
- problems planning
- issues prioritizing
- inability to manage stress
- low concentration/inattentiveness
- deficits in executive function
A potential employer is not allowed to request information or medical examinations regarding disabilities before they make an offer of employment.
However, once an employer makes an offer of employment, they can request such information or require a medical examination, whether it is considered relative to the position a person is applying for, as long as these requests are made of all incoming employees in similar roles.
After a person is hired, employers can only make inquiries regarding disabilities if it is job-related and the employee would pose a direct threat if they were intoxicated at work.
There are some exceptions to this rule: if the employee and employer enter into an agreement that the employee will submit to alcohol testing as a part of returning to work. This agreement cannot be used to manipulate the employee, and should only continue for a specific amount of time.
Drug Addiction And The ADA
The ADA uses a broad definition of disability for people, instead of listing all potential conditions. A person is considered disabled if they are mentally or physically impaired to the point where they are significantly limited in at least one area of life.
Drug addiction, by the ADA’s definition, meets the criteria to be considered a disability. However, if a person is actively using drugs, they are not protected by the ADA in the hiring process or as an employee.
When a person is in recovery, they are protected by the ADA. This means they cannot be discriminated against for their disability, and accommodations may need to be made for the individual, as addiction can cause long-term, permanent consequences even in recovery.
Some of the ways that addiction can affect a person in recovery include problems with attention, executive function, non-compliant behaviors, stress, and feeling worn down.
An employer or potential employer can require a drug test of employees or potential employees without being in violation of the ADA.
Employees And Addiction Treatment
The ADA and FMLA offer employment protection to women and men that meet criteria and struggle with addiction to drugs or alcohol. These protections can work to reduce stress for someone who is ready to go to rehab.
The employer also benefits from this as well. Taking care of employees helps to increase productivity and a morale boost to the job.
Statistics tend to vary on this, but it is estimated that somewhere between twenty-five to eighty percent of the workforce has shown up to work on drugs or alcohol.
Many employers require employees to submit to a contract often called a “Return to Work” agreement. This contract offers a list of expectations for the employee and employer when they return after treatment, as well as what will happen if the employee relapses.
Getting Treatment And Avoiding Stigma Of Addiction
Individuals who struggle with addiction do not always fit the stereotype. Many have jobs, homes, families, relationships, goals, and future plans. The only difference is that drugs and alcohol have invaded their lives.
Over time, a person may recognize that their substance abuse habits have gotten out of hand, but aren’t sure what options are available to them. With all the responsibilities of daily life, it can seem impossible to press pause and move into a residential treatment facility.
Addiction is a disease. Diseases can take over your life, make you feel helpless, and you may need to depend on others to help you make the best decisions to live a long, healthy life.
The FMLA and ADA will help you get the help you need while protecting your job while you complete an addiction treatment program, for up to twelve weeks.
The ADA also outlines confidentiality mandates for employers to keep medical information that involves ADA confidential. This means your employer is legally bound to not disclose why you are not at work.
This confidentiality allows employees to attend treatment and return to work without coworkers attributing the absence to the stigma associated with addiction.
Find A Treatment Facility With Our Help
There are so many options to consider when seeking substance abuse treatment. With all the choices out there, it is important to try to find one that meets your needs.
If you need to take twelve weeks away from work, it may be a good idea to notify your employer and see if you qualify for the protection of the FMLA, then reach out to us so we can find you a program that will be best suited for your situation.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Census Bureau - Population Statistics
- Open Society Foundations - Defining the Addiction Treatment Gap
- Current Neuropharmacology - Understanding the Global Problem of Drug Addiction is a Challenge for IDARS Scientists
- Job Accommodation Network - Alcoholism
- Job Accommodation Network - Drug Addiction
- National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics - Drug Abuse Statistics
- National Institute on Drug Abuse - Trends & Statistics
- National Institute on Drug Abuse - Cost of Substance Abuse
- Society for Human Resources Management - EEO: Disability: Are employees undergoing treatment for drug and alcohol addictions covered under the ADA?
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: 2017 Results from National Survey on Drug Use and Health
- US Department of Labor-Wage and Hour Division - Americans with Disabilities Act
- US Department of Labor-Wage and Hour Division - FMLA: Forms
- US Equal Employment Opportunities Commission - Fact Sheet: Disability Discrimination