What is FMLA?

The FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) is a federal law that protects the jobs of employees. Covered employers must provide unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.

Eligible employees may take up to 12 work-weeks of leave in a 12-month period if:

  • The birth of a son or daughter
  • The placement of a son or daughter with the employee for adoption or foster care 
  • To care for a spouse, son, daughter, or parent who has a severe health condition
  • For a serious health condition, which makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job. 

The U.S. Department of Labor enforces this law to make sure employees maintain their basic human rights if an emergency or medical situation arises, and they need the security of a job to return to upon taking care of it.

Am I Eligible for FMLA?

An eligible employee is one who qualifies for unpaid medical or family leave, for the following reasons:

  1. Works for a covered employer,
  2. Has worked for the employer for at least 12 months
  3. Has worked at least 1,250 hours in this period of employment
  4. Works at a location where the employer employs at least 50 employees within 75 miles of that worksite

For a better understanding of the Family and Medical Leave Act specific details, review this document on the United State’s Department of Labor’s website. It explains in detail the parameters of who is and is not eligible for the FMLA. However, most full-time, U.S. citizen employees are often under this care act.

Do I Need FMLA?

When it comes to substance abuse disorder, legally, you could be considered for FMLA time off for going through treatment. However, although it’s federally known as an official mental and medical condition, you state might have different laws regarding how much time off you’re guaranteed. Your specific workplace might also have certain limitations for the FMLA depending on how your situation is.

You must look at your employee handbook to see if your employer usually does not allow FMLA for substance abuse or related reasons.  Also, ensure that your employer will let you take time off to go to rehab. Plus, you should make sure that you give your employer as much time as possible to find a temporary replacement.  However, most employers want to do the right thing! Talk to your boss or higher up and be honest about your struggle, as well as your desire to get sober. With that, hopefully needing time off is a valid request. 

Can my employer fire me if I need to go to an addiction treatment center?

Once the employer has enough information to determine that the employee’s request qualifies as FMLA leave, the employer must provide the employee with a written “Designation Notice.”  You must provide the written “Designation Notice” within no more than five business days prior to leaving unless you can prove extenuating circumstances. If the leave does not qualify as FMLA leave, the employer must notify the employee in writing that the leave is not FMLA-protected. Such notice can be a simple written statement.

However, be advised that not all employers will act the same way.  So, you need to read all of the rules, know the specific situation at hand, and you should even get an attorney’s advice before moving ahead. Legal help will keep you protected from any loopholes that might arise in the process, in a worst-case scenario. 

Do I have to let my employer know before I leave on FMLA?

Yes, any employee must provide notice of the need for leave as soon as possible and practical. This is true especially in case they need to leave due to health reasons. The FMLA rules may vary for your company and your state’s laws. Pregnant women usually give maternity leave under the FMLA notice to their employers months ahead of time, especially if they know they will need to be away from work for the whole twelve weeks after childbirth. 

How long can I stay on FMLA?

Usually, employees with severe medical conditions to take a “leave of absence” for a maximum of 12 weeks per year (around three months).  The time can be taken a little at a time (even as little as one hour), or all-at-once. However, please check with an attorney to make sure that you have the right to leave on FMLA.

Will FMLA let me go to drug rehab?

In most cases, your employer will let you go or even pay for your drug rehab treatment (through the company’s insurance plan).  FMLA is primarily there to protect your job. When you come back from getting clean and sober, in case you have to leave again, on FMLA for substance abuse.  However, that doesn’t mean that your job will not be in jeopardy. For example, if you have a history of being a terrible employee (always being tardy, or being violent, etc.), your employer might try to find every “legal reason” in the company handbook to “let you go” (or fire you).

What are the reasons that I can use FMLA to protect my job?

You can use FMLA to protect your job if you have a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of his or her job. 

A serious health condition is an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental disease requiring inpatient care or continuing treatment are also valid. The FMLA does not apply to routine medical examinations, such as physical, or to standard medical conditions. Incapacity means inability to work, including being unable to perform any one of the essential functions of the employee’s position. The term “treatment” includes examinations to determine if a serious health condition exists and evaluations of the situation.

There is a chart that you can find, by clicking the link below, which describes the different types of conditions that are dangerous health conditions under the FMLA. Severe health conditions may include conditions that involve an inpatient hospital stay (or ones that include one or more visits to a health care provider and ongoing treatment). Chronic conditions and long-term or permanent periods of incapacity may also meet the requirements. Certain conditions requiring multiple procedures may also be FMLA qualifying.  See the chart on the next page for more information.

What does FMLA guarantee me?

The FMLA guarantees your job when you can get back into the workplace, but you must check with your attorney.  Compliance with all of the company’s and state’s rules before you take the leap and notify your company.

An employee is entitled to the continuation of group health insurance coverage during FMLA.

YOUR STATE MAY HAVE LAWS THAT OFFER SIMILAR OR GREATER PROTECTION. Each state and employer may have different “rules” for your particular situation.  You MUST check with an attorney licensed in your state to learn your rights for your specific case.


Employee’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act (U.S. Department of Labor)

All About the FMLA


Drug Addiction Helpline – Addiction and Alcohol Hotline