If you have a substance addiction problem that warrants rehab, then you may be worried about leaving your work for quite a while because of the possibility of getting fired. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about this because of the several laws in place.
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Drugs in the Workplace: An Overview
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 68.9% of the 22.4 million drug users are employed either part-time or full-time.
The same huge figures are seen in alcoholics. It is said that 76.1% of heavy alcohol drinkers and 79.3% of binge drinkers are currently employed.
More often than not, substance users have:
- Productivity problems
- Poor work performance
- Retention issues (transferring from one employment to another)
- Increased number of lates or absences
- Increased need to file for claims and benefits
According to the National Safety Council, recovering employees are less likely to miss work, be hospitalized, or see the doctor. Add to that, they’re known to have lower turnover rates as well.
What Laws Will Protect Me From Termination?
Should you decide to go to rehab, know that 2 laws allow you to seek treatment – without the fear of being fired.
1. Family and Medical Leave Act
Also known as FMLA, it requires companies to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave. This covers treatment for a serious medical condition that may affect your performance, as is the case with addiction and the need for rehab.
To be eligible for the FMLA, you must:
- Be employed in a company with 50 or more employees living within a 75-mile radius
- Have worked for your employer for at least 1,250 hours for the last 12 months
Through the FMLA, you can return to your previous position (or equivalent) with the same pay and benefits. Add to that, this law requires your employer to maintain your current insurance plan. You have the option to pay your premiums in installments – or in full once you return to work.
2. Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA is a law that protects disabled employees from discrimination. Essentially, this covers people were addicts that have been rehabilitated. It does not protect those who are currently using drugs.
It’s a different case, however, if you plan on using your leaves to go to treatment. As chemical dependency is considered a disability, you cannot be fired by your employer for this reason alone.
How to Apply for FMLA
Should you decide to go to rehab, you need to file for your FMLA leave ahead of time. This should be started at least 30 minutes before your intended entry to the facility. If this is not possible, you need to advise your employer at the soonest time possible.
When you file your leave, make sure to indicate that it is for an FMLA-protected condition.
Should there be a need for certification, you need to submit it to your employer within 15 days. This document should bear the following details:
- When the condition first began – and how long it is expected to last
- Facts about the condition, i.e. symptoms, hospitalization, doctors’ visits, and referrals
- Determination of the employee’s inability to work
- Need for either continuous or intermittent leave, including the anticipated days of leave and frequency of absences
- The healthcare provider’s contact information
Should your employer deem your certification info is lacking, you will need to provide the additional information within 7 working days.
In case the employer has doubts regarding your claim, he/she may seek a second opinion or third opinion. The employer shall cover the cost for certification.
What to Expect After Filing
Once things are in order, you should receive notification of approval (or denial) five business days before the first date of your leave.
Your employer shall also give you a notice of your rights and responsibilities. It should include the following information:
- The definition of the 12-month period for FMLA tracking. This could make use of a calendar year or your work anniversary date.
- The need for medical certification, if applicable.
- The right to use paid leave, and whether your employer will require you to use so.
- The right to maintain all your health benefits, and the need to pay premiums as necessary.
- The responsibility to return to work after consuming the FMLA leave.
Should there be changes throughout your rehab stint (for example, you have to undergo treatment for an additional week), you need to inform your employer about this.
What Happens After Treatment?
Before you resume work, you have to meet the stipulations of your return-to-work agreement (RTWA). This is commonly used by employers who recommend the employee seek help. However, it can be used in situations where the person voluntarily sought rehab.
RTWA is often signed in the presence of addiction professionals and a union representative, together with the employer and employee.
Depending on your employer, he/she might require you to accomplish the following before you get back to work:
- Refrain from drug or alcohol abuse
- Undergo periodic drug tests
- Adhere to the treatments and medications prescribed by addiction professionals
Filing a Complaint
If you got terminated – or if you believe that your FMLA rights were violated by your employer – you may file a complaint. You could address this to the US Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division.
In this document, you should include the following information:
- Your name
- Address and contact details
- The company where you have worked
- The company’s location and contact details
- Employer or manager’s name
- Your FMLA circumstances and your employer’s response
Remember, you may not be terminated by your employer just because you wish to go to rehab. Your rights are protected by FMLA and the ADA. With the former, you are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a serious condition such as substance abuse.
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