Can You Get Fired For Going To Rehab – Know The Rights

Last Updated: December 23, 2021

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Living with addiction has immense deteriorating effects on one’s health, state of mind, relationship with others, and capacity as a worker, student, or any other status. Many individuals who are living with substance abuse are unable to leave work and seek help for drugs and alcohol because of the possibility of losing their jobs. The common question is, can you get fired for going to rehab? Firstly, one needs to understand how to tell your employer you are going to rehab in a way that doesn’t make the user seem like a liability to the company. There are methods on how to go to rehab and keep your job, which is always better than getting fired for drinking on the job.

Let’s take a look at the facts. Can you get fired for going to rehab? Are there jobs for recovering alcoholics?

Can You Get Fired for Going to Rehab? Alcoholic Employee Rights

Employers may have a personal bias when it comes to stereotypes they have about the type of person who suffers from addiction. They may feel uneasy about an individual with a gap in their work history, no matter the reasons. However, this type of business discrimination is something many addiction sufferers and recovering addicts face as they attempt to keep existing jobs or apply for new ones. It is becoming increasingly crucial for rehab-seeking employees to know their rights. It is just as crucial that job seekers who happen to be recovering addicts are aware of their rights. The concern is, can you get fired for going to rehab? Millions of people with substance use and addiction refuse to get help because of the stigma, even when it is highly recommended or has become a cause for concern.

19.9 million
people

In 2016, an estimated 19.9 million people aged 18 and above needed substance abuse treatment; only 10.8% of this number (2.1 million) received treatment.

17.7 million
substance users

About 17.7 million substance users in the United States needed treatment for drugs and alcohol but did not get any. Of this number, only about 4.5% ( Approximately 806,000) felt the urgency to seek help.

10%-25%
U.S. population

According to reports, about 10%-25% of the U.S. population operates under the influence of alcohol or drugs while on duty.

Is Drug Addiction Considered a Disability?

Yes, legally, drug addiction is considered to be a disability because it requires treatment and rehabilitation, just as any other medical disorder does. Take, for instance, a recovering addict who is applying for a job. That person has the right to challenge any discrimination due to their past drug use or need for treatment.

Alcohol and drug disorders, defined as a legal disability that requires effective treatment and rehabilitation, just as any other medical or behavioral disorder. As such, individuals suffering from such afflictions have the right to challenge workplace discrimination for honest disclosure of past drug disorders or the need to seek treatment.

Additionally, individual employers who have offered medical benefits or full health coverage to employees must honor commitments to pay for a part or potentially all treatment and maintain an employee during a potential leave.

Disappointed couple talking with rehab therapist.

Is Alcoholism Covered Under ADA?

In this day and age, due to the high number of substance abuse and focus on supporting addiction sufferers, specific federal laws protect individuals from workplace discrimination both during treatment and in subsequent job hunting or return to work. Among those laws are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

FMLA act provides employees the opportunity of unpaid work leaves to get help for an addiction. FMLA offers up to 12 weeks leave within 12 months based on specific reasons such as a referral from a medical professional. Workers who are eligible for this recovery opportunity are those found unable to function optimally at their place of work. This exempts individuals who miss work because of drugs but are not seeking treatment.

The law protects against discriminatory actions; however, it does not always protect legally. For instance, a workplace with specific substance abuse policies that do not discriminate and has room for treatment admissions may terminate one’s employment even while on leave. Hence, the first step on how to go to rehab and keep your job is to find out if your current employer has a policy related to recovery from addiction.

Other Requirements That Make One Eligible for FMLA Are:

  • An employer has at least 50 employees residing within 75 miles
  • Your employer should be covered
  • You should be at least 12 months on the job with a minimum of 1,250 hours of work
  • A company should be a public agency or a school

Americans with Disability Act (ADA)

Can you get fired for going to rehab? Not if you qualify for ADA. This Act prohibits employers of services from firing, discriminating against, or refusing to hire suitable and qualified employees because of their disability which includes addiction. The law protects employees that are either on admissions, recovery or seeking help.

The law has a few exceptions. ADA does not cover current drug or alcohol users who pose some kind of threat to others. One is protected by ADA if:

  • You have gone to or registered with a rehab
  • You are currently not using drugs
  • The habit isn’t newly formed

There are several other conditions which you can learn about here.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973

This Act applies the discrimination rules and regulations in the ADA to federal employees, federal agencies, federal contractors, and other federal bodies.

Fair Housing Act

The FHA mandates housing facilities to provide equal rights to people with disabilities. In addition, this law prohibits discrimination of any sort against individuals that identify with ADA.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

The law of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protects patients’ privacy and ensures that their health information is held in the highest confidentiality.

Workforce Investment Act (WIA)

The federal Act provides statewide services and functions in improving occupational skill development, employment retention, and other services to increase workforce quality and enhance welfare.

lawyers discussing employee rehab options

How to Go to Rehab and Keep Your Job?

If an employed individual suffers from drug or alcohol dependency or addiction, the first step towards getting the help they need while working to maintain job security involves proper communication with one’s employer. It is important to remember that as an addiction sufferer, one qualifies as an ‘individual with disabilities.’

Therefore, if one needs to go away for a treatment program, one should contact and communicate with the employer to discuss treatment plans and form a step-by-step structure to tackle the obstacles.

How to Tell Your Employer You are Going to Rehab?

Can you get fired for going to rehab? This often depends on the approach used. However, there are a few simple techniques on how to tell your employer you are going to rehab.

The Best Way to Tell the Boss That a Time off Is Needed to Go to Rehab Is:

  • Firstly, it is pertinent to know your rights as an employee. Study and understand the FMLA law and how it relates to your position. You can get admissions and detox for drug use if you are eligible, and your job will be secure.
  • Be open and honest about the situation with your boss. Make them understand your dedication to your work and the need for you to operate at your best capacity. Communication is vital if one wants to keep their job.
  • Find out if the employer provides any employee assistance programs (EAP) or programs that aid individuals working for a company and suffering from personal problems in the form of insurance or referral. From there, find out what is covered by private health insurance both through the employer and the employee.
  • Propose a comprehensive plan on how your role can be effectively filled during your absence so that there are little or no gaps at all while you are at the rehab center getting help
  • Ask your employer how you can contribute to making the transition seamless. This may include preparing certain documents long ahead of schedule, creating templates, automating and scheduling systems, and lots more.
Woman thanks for help and assistance.

What Organizations Could Assist in Finding Drug Rehab?

The Affordable Care Act Health Insurance Marketplace is obligated to help individuals find the most targeted substance abuse and mental health services to assist an employee’s needs best.

After locating the best rehab program to fit one’s needs, keep in mind that lack of funding should not be a barrier to receiving necessary treatment. Though inexpensive programs alternate through state-sponsored rehab programs, support groups, and online recovery networks, there are also nationally and federally sponsored resources for drug abuse.

The Social Security Administration can determine whether or not a sufferer may qualify for assistance or supplemental income. In addition, the American Society for Addiction Medicine offers educational programs and information on self-advocacy, networking, treatment programs, and aftercare services.

Financing addiction treatment may be financially draining without the help of friends and family. However, even with the help of family, the processes of severe addiction such as detox can be quite expensive. This is where a good insurance plan becomes necessary. The good news is that some companies offer their staff assistance by co-financing their treatment, counseling, and other necessities.

Some criteria determine if a person is eligible for medical assistance. These factors include the following:

  • The disorder is certified by a DSM-5 assessment.
  • The individual is mentally able to receive treatment and benefit from a rehab center.
  • There is proof in the person’s career, educational, and social life that the person is suffering from moderate to severe substance abuse.
  • Due to substance abuse, the individual poses a physical threat to themselves and others and may not get care at a less intensive center.
  • The individual has been unable to stay sober after three months of intervention by medical professionals. Or, the individual lives in a highly dysfunctional space that truncates or retards any form of rehabilitation at a center offering less-intensive treatment.
  • If there is proven evidence that the individual would not respond to anything less than highly intensive residential treatment.
  • The individual shows motivation and dedication to managing behavioral changes, engaging in therapeutic tasks, and completing detox regimens.

Does My Insurance Cover Addiction Treatment? Read More About Your Health Insurance Options:

Is it Hard to Find a Job After Rehab?

According to the law, a person in recovery should be able to find a job after attending rehab with little to no difficulty.

Certain federal laws protect individuals from the workplace and other types of discrimination. These laws include:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • Fair Housing Act (FHA)
  • Workforce Investment Act (WIA)

The goal of rehabilitation is to reintegrate individuals into their lives, work, families, and social settings. It is also the goal to help people to lead healthier and more productive lives. Therefore, it falls on the shoulders of companies across the nation to weigh the risks and rewards involved with temporarily losing an employee.

On the risk side, holding a place in the workforce for someone battling addiction provides logistical obstacles and inconveniences for any business. But, at the same time, keeping reliable, trustworthy, and valued employees as they receive the help they need can be a tremendous asset to the business.

Transitioning from rehab into everyday life and going back to work is another aspect that one should consider to pick up the pieces with ease.

Here Are a Few Tips on How to Return to One’s Workplace After Rehabilitation:

  • Continuing an outpatient treatment such as A.A. may be best to help maintain sobriety.
  • It is essential to fulfill any set requirements laid down by the employer before leaving for treatment.
  • One of the requirements for returning to work may be the willingness to take and pass a drug test on arrival or as often as required.
  • Furthermore, a relapse can be triggered by stress from work or any other activity. So, it is necessary to devise a coping mechanism to deal with excess pressure from work; these coping mechanisms may include; exercises, healthy habits, meditation, attending A.A. meetings, and others.
  • It is important to note that the time off from work or non-discrimination laws do not excuse poor performance, and one can still lose their job because of poor work performance.

Getting Help and Keeping your Job

Often people neglect seeking help for addiction until it is too late. It is much easier and convenient to contact a medical practitioner on how to get the best support for addiction than to get fired for drinking on the job or using drugs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a Person Lose Their Job for Going to Rehab Twice on the Same Job?

Not necessarily. Circumstances are surrounding the dynamics of how to go to rehab and keep your job. For instance, situations that may cause a person to lose their job include: failing a drug test, inappropriate conduct, violating a company policy, breaching a return-to-work agreement with an employer, or poor performance at work due to continuing the use of a substance.

Can a Person Continue Working While in Rehab?

Most inpatient rehab centers require maximum focus on healing as every other activity may cause distraction or stress, triggering a relapse. However, outpatient and teletherapy patients may still go for work appointments since they do not live in the hospital and their addictions are less severe than those at inpatient centers.

What if a Person Loses Their Job While Getting Treatment for an Addiction?

A person may lose their job if they go for rehab without leave, do not follow FMLA guidelines, or if the company has always had a stringent drug-free policy. If the termination of one’s employment has no backing and it feels more like an act of discrimination against one’s disability, a complaint can be filed to ADA.

Will There Be Consequences for Absence When One Returns to Work After Rehab?

Even though the ADA protects employees in rehab and recovery, the workspace may treat returnees differently. These treatments may include triggering behaviors, work pressure, critics from supervisors, and challenging colleagues. Therefore, it is essential to carefully and efficiently reintegrate into the system during recovery.

Find Drug Rehabilitation Centers Near You Anywhere In the US

Addiction Resource team has compiled an extensive list of the top drug rehabilitation facilities around the country. Click on the state you are interested in, and you'll get a list of the best centers in the area, along with their levels of care, working hours, and contact information. Haven't found the rehab you need? Call the toll-free helpline below for professional assistance.

USA map.

Page Sources

  1. EMPLOYEE ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS, https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/worklife/employee-assistance-programs/
  2. Dominic Hodgkin, Elizabeth L. Merrick, Deirdre Hiatt, Constance M. Horgan, Thomas G. McGuire, The Effect of Employee Assistance Plan Benefits on the Use of Outpatient Behavioral Health Care, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3081606/
  3. Park-Lee, E., Lipari, R. N., Hedden, S. L., Kroutil, L. A., & Porter, J. D. (2018). Receipt of services for substance use and mental health issues among adults: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-DR-FFR2-2016/NSDUH-DR-FFR2-2016.htm#:
  4. Foreman, M. L., Jefferson, T., de La Viez, B., Park, J. K., Reilly, P., & Quarterman, B. (2000). Sharing the Dream: Is the ADA Accommodating All? A Report on the Americans with Disabilities Act. https://www.usccr.gov/files/pubs/ada/ch4.htm
  5. United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, How to File an Americans with Disabilities Act Complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, https://www.ada.gov/filing_complaint.htm
  6. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Sections 501 and 505, https://www.eeoc.gov/statutes/rehabilitation-act-1973
  7. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), https://www.cdc.gov/phlp/publications/topic/hipaa.html#
  8. Sigurdsson, S. O., Ring, B. M., O’Reilly, K., & Silverman, K. (2012). Barriers to employment among unemployed drug users: Age predicts severity. The American journal of drug and alcohol abuse, 38(6), 580-587. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3985289/

Published on: May 16th, 2018

Updated on: December 23rd, 2021

About Author

Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Nena Messina is a specialist in drug-related domestic violence. She devoted her life to the study of the connection between crime, mental health, and substance abuse. Apart from her work as management at addiction center, Nena regularly takes part in the educational program as a lecturer.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.