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Medically Reviewed

How Do I Know If I Can Use The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for Addiction Treatment?

- 4 sections

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that can wreak havoc on your life. If you are working in a professional field, struggling with substance abuse can hinder your ability to perform well at work. While you may be avoiding treatment in fear of losing your job for taking time off, there are ways to get the help you need and stay in your profession.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a law that protects you from being fired for taking time off from work to care for sick family members, newborn children, or personal medical emergencies. But can you use the FMLA to go to addiction treatment?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “The FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.”[1] In other words, this law prevents you from being fired for taking care of your or your family’s health.

While you can be fired for using drugs or alcohol on the job, the FMLA protects you from being terminated for seeking the substance abuse support you need.

Family Medical Leave Act

Can I Take Family and Medical Leave to Go to Addiction Treatment?

The FMLA protects your job during rehab or should you need to take leave for personal or family medical emergencies. But what exactly does this mean?

According to the law, the FMLA allows you to take unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks in one year for one of the following reasons:

  • The birth of a child or to care for a newborn baby
  • Caring for an adopted child or foster care child within one year of placement
  • Caring for your spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition
  • Treating a health condition that renders you unable to perform the essential duties of your job

Understanding whether you can go to addiction treatment using the FMLA requires you to know what this law considers a “serious health condition.” Serious health conditions are described as an ailment that prevents you from being able to complete the basic duties of your job. In other words, you must be suffering from something more severe than just a common cold, meaning your illness has to require significant ongoing treatment or inpatient care for you to recover.

Examples of physical health conditions covered by the FMLA include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Pneumonia
  • Severe arthritis
  • Nervous system disorders
  • Emphysema
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Chronic back conditions

Examples of mental health conditions covered by the FMLA include:

  • Memory disorders
  • Severe depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Severe bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance use disorder

The medical condition that you are seeking treatment for must impact your ability to complete daily tasks. This means that the condition would be severe enough to warrant inpatient treatment, rendering you unable to have the time to attend work while you are healing. This would include conditions such as substance use disorders, as suffering from addiction can cause you to be unable to function in your daily life and lead to additional serious health conditions or even death if left untreated.

Who Qualifies for the FMLA?

Your ability to function in your daily life becomes impacted when you suffer from addiction, meaning your ability to perform in your job will be affected as well. The FMLA was created to ensure that professionals could get the help they need without fearing the loss of their careers. Although the FMLA can provide job protection, not everyone qualifies for it.

The FMLA covers most people and workplaces but it is important to ensure that you are eligible to use this law to take unpaid leave. If you meet the following criteria, you are eligible to use the FMLA for addiction treatment:

  • You work for a covered employer
  • You have worked for your employer for 12 months or more (non-consecutively)
  • You’ve worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period you worked at the company
  • You work in a company where there are 50 employees within a 75-mile radius

When reading the eligibility criteria, you may wonder what a “covered employer” is. This just means that the employer is covered by the FMLA.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a covered employer is:[2]

  • Any private sector employer with 50 or more employees working 20 or more weeks each year
  • A local, state, or government agency
  • Any public or private elementary or secondary school

How Do I Talk to My Employer About Using the FMLA to Go to Rehab?

Once you have determined whether you can use the FMLA for addiction treatment, the next step is to talk to your employer. This can be extremely scary, as stigmas surrounding addiction cause it to be difficult to open up to employers about needing professional treatment for substance abuse. However, there are some tips and tricks you can use to ensure that your conversation runs smoothly.

When talking to your employer about using the FMLA to go to rehab, consider the following:

  • Have the conversation sooner rather than later. This allows them time to plan and make adjustments to schedules so there is no inconvenience to anyone.
  • Be completely familiar with the FMLA and what your rights are. If you are eligible for this law, your employer cannot discriminate against you for attending treatment.
  • Do not tell your coworkers before your boss. Gossip spreads and your boss will respect you more for coming directly to them.
  • Have a treatment plan lined up already. This shows your boss you are serious about getting better so you can perform at your full ability.
  • Be honest with your employer. Open up to your boss about how getting treatment will help you be a better employee. Chances are, they have already noticed a decline in your performance due to your substance abuse and will respect you for wanting to do better.

Start Your Recovery Today

If you or a loved one struggle with addiction and are afraid to go to rehab out of fear of losing your job, Carolina Recovery Center is here to help. Everyone deserves to receive the support they need when they are going through substance use disorder, a potentially life-threatening condition that can wreak havoc on their life. Thankfully, we can help you navigate the FMLA, a law that allows you to take unpaid leave for addiction treatment without being fired.

Contact Carolina Recovery Center today for more information on how to get started.