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American Addiction Centers National Rehabs Directory

How to Talk to Your Employer About Going to Rehab and Keep Your Job

Many people put off going to rehab due to the fear of losing their jobs—but there are legal safeguards in place to protect employees seeking treatment for substance use disorder (SUD). The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) are just some of the legal safeguards that offer protections that prevent individuals from being fired for entering rehab.1 This page will help you learn how to go to rehab without losing your job, plus strategies to help you navigate talking to your employer.

Can I Be Fired for Going to Rehab?

Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on disability, which includes substance use disorder (SUD). However, there are circumstances where an employer can potentially terminate an employee despite their participation in a rehab program.

If an employee’s job performance significantly declines or if an employee engages in misconduct that impacts their ability to fulfill their job responsibilities, the employer may have legal grounds for termination.1

Laws that protect employed individuals seeking treatment for substance use disorder (SUD):

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): This federal law prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in various areas of life, including employment. The ADA recognizes SUD as a disability, meaning individuals with SUD are protected from discrimination and cannot be fired solely based on their addiction. The ADA also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with SUD who are seeking treatment or in recovery, allowing them to maintain employment while addressing their health needs.1
  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973: This federal law prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in programs conducted by federal agencies, and those receiving federal funding. It includes provisions related to SUD by recognizing it as a disability and ensuring that individuals are protected from discrimination. The act mandates that individuals with SUD have equal access to programs and services provided by federal agencies and entities receiving federal funds.2
  • The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA): This federal law sets standards for protecting the privacy and security of individuals’ health information. It applies to healthcare providers that handle protected health information (PHI). HIPAA includes provisions that protect the confidentiality of individuals seeking treatment for substance use disorder (SUD).3

Because each scenario is different, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with specific laws and regulations in your state to understand your rights. 

Can I Use the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for Addiction Treatment?

Yes, in most cases, you can use the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for addiction treatment.4

FMLA is a federal law that provides eligible employees with job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons. FMLA gives employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during 12 months for certain qualifying reasons. One qualifying reason is a serious health condition by which your healthcare provider finds you unable to work or perform essential functions of your job. However, if you miss work because you are using a substance and not seeking treatment, you do not qualify for FMLA leave.4

This law does not always protect you from any legal action. Your employer cannot discriminate against you for taking FMLA leave; but, if they have a substance use policy that is given to employees and applied in a nondiscriminatory manner and it includes a provision on enrolling in treatment, they may terminate your employment, regardless of whether you are currently on leave for treatment. In the absence of any formal company policy on the issue, you may take FMLA leave and return to your job after completing your leave.4 A good place to start to see if your employer has a policy in place is your new-hire paperwork. You can also ask your Human Resources (HR) department.

Eligibility Requirements for FMLA Leave

To be eligible for FMLA leave, employers and employees must meet certain requirements. The employer must be covered under the FMLA. Generally, private employers with 50 or more employees, public agencies, and certain educational institutions are covered by the law.5

Employees must meet the following criteria:5

  • Worked for the employer for at least 12 months.
  • Worked at least 1,250 hours.
  • Worked at a location with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius.

Employees must also have a qualifying reason for leave, one of which is a health condition that renders them unable to perform their job, such as substance use disorder (SUD).6

It’s important to note that while FMLA provides job protection, it does not guarantee paid leave. FMLA leave is generally unpaid, although employees may be able to use accrued paid leave or benefits during their FMLA leave period. If at any time, you feel like you have been discriminated against, you can file a complaint or charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. For more information about medical leave rights, click here.

How to Tell Your Employer You Are Going to Rehab

Telling your employer about your decision to go to rehab for substance use disorder (SUD) can be challenging, but honest and transparent communication is important for maintaining a supportive work environment. These strategies can help you navigate the discussion:

  • Choose the right time and place: Schedule a private meeting with your employer in a private setting where you can avoid interruptions.
  • Prepare in advance: Plan what you want to say and practice answering potential questions your employer may have. Be clear and concise about your decision to seek treatment, emphasizing your commitment to addressing your health needs while maintaining your job responsibilities.
  • Be honest and transparent: Approach the conversation with honesty and transparency. Share that you are facing a personal challenge with substance use and have made the proactive choice to seek professional help through rehab. Assure your employer that you are committed to your recovery and recognize the importance of maintaining your job responsibilities.
  • Educate your employer about substance use disorder (SUD): Provide some basic information about SUD, emphasizing that it is a recognized medical condition. Explain that seeking treatment is a positive step toward recovery and will enable you to become a healthier, more productive employee in the long run.
  • Emphasize your commitment to work: Assure your employer that your primary goal is to address your health issues and return to work as a focused and productive team member. Reiterate your dedication to your job and express your willingness to work collaboratively to ensure a smooth transition during your absence.
  • Address job-related concerns: If you anticipate any temporary work disruptions or adjustments during your treatment, discuss potential solutions with your employer. If possible, present a plan for managing your workload during your absence.

Each employer and workplace is unique, so tailor these strategies to your situation. If you are uncertain about approaching the conversation or encounter any resistance, consider speaking with a human resources (HR) professional who can provide further guidance. Ultimately, your decision to seek treatment shows a commitment to personal growth, and with proper communication, you can maintain your job while prioritizing your health and recovery.

Can You Still Work While in Rehab? Outpatient Rehab Options

Yes, in some cases you may be able to maintain your responsibilities at work while in an outpatient rehab program.

With outpatient rehab programs, people attend treatment during the day but return home in the evening. In some cases, you may be able to maintain your responsibilities at work.7

Outpatient rehab can vary greatly in duration and intensity but allows more flexibility than inpatient rehab programs. If you’re concerned about your job, consider speaking with your doctor about outpatient rehab options. Some people may be advised to begin treatment in inpatient rehab before transitioning to outpatient rehab while others may start at a lower level of care. The right course of treatment depends on your situation.7

Can You Get Fired or Lose a Job Offer for Failing a Drug Test?

An employer can drug test at any time. If you are applying for a position, you may be required to take a pre-employment drug test as a condition of your job offer. You may also be required to take drug tests even if the drug test is not related to your position or necessary for the business. If you test positive for drugs during a drug test, this information will be kept confidential, like any medical record.6 You may also be tested after returning from treatment. If you test positive, your employer may terminate your job.8

Employers have the right to fire or discipline an employee based on their drug test results, even if you claim that you have recently stopped using illegal drugs. However, employers cannot fire you based on the presence of prescription drugs or legal medication like methadone, and an employer may not ask what prescription drugs you are taking before making a job offer.8

Employee Assistance Programs for Substance Use Disorder Treatment

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are workplace-based programs designed to support employees facing personal challenges, including substance use disorder (SUD). EAPs typically offer confidential assessments, counseling, and referral services to help employees address SUD and other mental health issues. They can provide access to resources such as therapy, treatment programs, and support groups. EAPs can be instrumental in helping employees struggling with SUD by offering guidance, support, and connections to appropriate treatment options, ultimately fostering a healthier work environment, and facilitating the employee’s path to recovery.9

If you are struggling with substance use disorder (SUD), remember that seeking treatment is important for your well-being and overall quality of life. While concerns about job security are valid, SUD can have a profound impact on both your personal and professional life. Don’t let fear hold you back from getting the help you need. Reach out, prioritize your health, and take the necessary steps toward recovery and a brighter future. Remember, seeking treatment is a courageous and empowering decision that can positively transform your life.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of evidence-based addiction treatment. We can help connect you with a program that meets your needs. Contact us 24 hours a day at to speak with a compassionate admissions navigator. They can hear your story, provide information on treatment options, and verify your insurance benefits. Calling is confidential and free, and there is no obligation to enter treatment.

AAC maintains a strong partnership with a large group of insurance companies at our addiction treatment facilities. Start the journey to recovery and find out instantly using the form below if your health insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of rehab and associated therapies.

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