With the nation in the midst of an opioid epidemic, it is more important than ever to understand that substance use disorder is rampant partially because it is extremely difficult for more people to overcome. Out of the estimated 22.7 million Americans who desperately need addiction treatment, only around 2.5 million of them actually received treatment in a facility. But this is largely because a lot of people are afraid to ask for help.
One of the primary reasons so many people don’t seek the help they need is because they fear how it may reflect on them in their professional life.
Fortunately, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) provides some assistance and protections to people who need help with addiction treatment.
So how does FMLA cover addiction treatment, and how do you get the help you need?
The Family and Medical Leave Act
On February 5, 1993 then President Bill Clinton signed the bill establishing the Family and Medical Leave Act as a United States federal law. FMLA requires covered employers to provide their employees with job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons. The situations that fall under this coverage include:
- Personal or family illness
- Family military leave
- Foster care placement of a child
FMLA is administered by the Wage and Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor. This act allows eligible employees to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to attend to any of the qualifying circumstances. In order to be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must:
- Have been at the business at least 12 months
- Work at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months
- Work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles
Four states have passed laws requiring paid family and medical leave:
- 2002- California
- 2008- New Jersey
- 2013- Rhode Island
- 2016- New York in 2016
Washington State approved paid family and medical leave in 2007, but the law has not taken effect due to a lack of funding.
In any case it is important to remember that every state has different provisions regarding FMLA. Be sure to try and reach out to your Human Resources department and a legal professional to find out what options are available in your state.
Does FMLA Cover Addiction Treatment?
If you are seeking help for substance use treatment, it is covered under FMLA. With FMLA, after returning to work from addiction treatment you must be restored to your original job or an equivalent position. In other words, financial punishment from your employer is prohibited. Therefore, the individual will receive no loss of pay or benefits and terms of the previous position will be honored. Even if you are entitled to a bonus before FMLA leave, the bonus will still apply.
ATTENTION: FMLA Does NOT Protect Everything
For one, an employee can still be terminated regardless of whether he or she is presently taking FMLA leave depending on if your employer has an established policy that:
- Is applied in a non-discriminatory manner
- Has been communicated to all employees
- Provides under certain circumstances an employee may be terminated for substance abuse
So be sure to evaluate your employers drug and alcohol policy carefully before asking for FMLA leave.
What If You’re Still Worried?
The truth is, with HIPPA laws, you can keep the reason WHY you are filing for FMLA leave private. When you apply for FMLA with your employer, you’re only need to tell them you are ill and unable to meet the conditions of your job at this time. You can say that you need to get medical treatment for your condition. That is all.
Legally, an employer cannot force you to provide any more information than you are comfortable with, although they may require a doctor’s certification that you need medical treatment. You can have FMLA cover addiction treatment as long as it is provided by a health care provider, or they can refer you to a specialized treatment provider of health care services.
In order to be protected by FMLA you must provide your employer with prior notice, or else you may still face termination.
Be aware, this does not mean that if you are using the substance and chose to take time off because of its adverse side effects, this is not covered by FMLA. In other words, absence for addiction and not for treatment does not qualify for FMLA leave.
FMLA Does NOT Cover Active Addiction
This is an important aspect to remember about the FMLA laws. While you are provided some protection in order to take leave for treatment, it does not protect you from the consequences of active addiction.
Termination due to inappropriate behavior on the job site is not protected. Neither is absenteeism due to active addiction. FMLA does not allow you to take time off because you are too drunk or too sick from withdrawals while waiting to go to treatment.
For example: If you seek help for alcohol addiction and file for FMLA leave for addiction treatment, but you miss work for a few days before leave because of heavy drinking, those few days are not protected because they don’t count as part of the FMLA leave. So be careful not to get too far ahead of yourself if you are planning on utilizing FMLA to get the much needed help.
Why It Matters
So why does FMLA cover addiction treatment at all?
One of the main reasons that substance use disorder is protected by the government is because the National Institute on Drug Abuse states:
“Drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting usually takes more than good intentions or a strong will. Drugs change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who want to. Fortunately, researchers know more than ever about how drugs affect the brain and have found treatment that can help people recover from drug addiction and lead productive lives.”
Addiction is classified as a disease and qualifies as a serious health condition that needs healthcare treatment. This shows that the government acknowledges the difficulties faced by individuals who become addicted to drugs, and the importance of supporting them in getting better by offering some protection for their careers and financial futures.
It is important that employers honor FMLA because it allows for a healthier and more effective workplace, while also giving someone who has already become part of the business to better themselves. This all matters because you never know when a member of your staff could need support for a drug and/or alcohol problem. It isn’t always the slacker. A lot of times it is the employee of the month.
It matters because even for the deal makers, the self-starters and the top performers, sometimes we all need help.