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Will I Lose My Job If I Go To Drug and Alcohol Rehab?

Most Americans who battle alcohol or drug use problems can function well enough to keep working full-time. About 73 percent of drug users in the US work part-time or full-time, while 63 percent of full-time workers use alcohol.

If you're concerned that going to alcohol or drug treatment may damage your employment or career, you are not alone in your worries. Many people put off getting help with alcohol or drugs because they don't want to lose their jobs or be judged by their bosses and coworkers.

Fortunately, federal regulations and workplace rules are in place to safeguard people trying to recover from a substance use disorder. Understanding your rights and protections as an employee and having a plan in place may help you keep your job while you are undergoing addiction treatment.

Going to rehab will not automatically cause you to lose your job; you've got the law on your side.

Employees who get treatment for addiction while still at work are protected by the ADA and other laws like the MHPAEA, the ACA, and the Family Medical Leave Act, which all work together to make them eligible to return to work after the treatment.

A Quick Review of the Laws

The following is a summary of laws that are important to be aware of if you use drugs or alcohol and you wish to know how it can affect your job:

  1. If you are actively taking illicit drugs, you don't qualify as a person with a disability if your boss chooses to take action against you due to your drug usage.

  2. If you have a history of substance abuse but are no longer actively misusing drugs, the law bars your employer from mistreating you in the workplace.

  3. If you need to take time off for a significant health issue, including addiction treatment, you are protected under the FMLA law.

  4. Under the FMLA, you can take up to 12 weeks (84 days) of unpaid leave from work every year to attend drug rehabilitation.

  5. Your employer has the power to stop you from using addictive substances illegally at work.

  6. It isn't against the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for an employer to do drug tests. Your employer has the power to do drug tests to find out if you are using drugs that are not allowed at work.

  7. If you are presently using illicit substances, you may face dismissal or denial of job opportunities if your boss on their own discovers it.

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Expert Contributor

Dr. Williams presently serves on the board of Directors for two non-profit service organizations. He holds a Master’s degree in Human Services from Lincoln University, Philadelphia, Pa, and a Ph.D. with a concentration in Clinical Psychology from Union Institute and University. In Cincinnati, Ohio. He is licensed to practice addictions counseling in both New Jersey and Connecticut and has a pending application as a practicing Psychologist in New Jersey.

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The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a significant piece of legislation enacted to protect any Americans with a disability, including those who suffer from incapacitating drug use disorders. The Act applies to all companies with 15 or more employees.

You should know that, according to the United States Department of Justice, "someone who has a disability" is a category that does not include someone who is currently taking illegal drugs.

Under some circumstances, an employer may fire you:

  • If you are using alcohol or drugs illegally on the job.

  • Substance use interferes with performance or productivity.

  • Substance use causes dangerous working conditions. 


The situation changes if your employer finds out you're going to treatment. Consider the following scenario: You've decided to take 28 days of vacation time and want to spend it in treatment. Your employer learns that you will be enrolled in a treatment program. According to the American with Disabilities Act, you cannot be dismissed for seeking treatment in a rehabilitation facility under certain conditions. It is because chemical dependency is seen as a disability.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) looks at the moment a person is dismissed from work to establish whether the worker is actively using drugs or drinking excessively. The law does not consider past offenses caused by drug and alcohol misuse. If you seek substance abuse treatment on your initiative, you cannot be fired for doing so, nor can you be dismissed for prior errors caused by drug and alcohol usage.

Talk to the Rolling Hills Recovery Center admissions staff if you're worried about how attending treatment may affect your job prospects after completing treatment. We can help you determine the best way to get treatment while still keeping your job.

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Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act

The MHPAEA is a federal law protecting people with mental illnesses and addictions. It's reasonable that many people want to know whether their company's health insurance covers addiction in the same way it covers other medical problems. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act addresses this issue.

The MHPAEA is a federal statute. It mandates group health insurance plans to include mental health and substance abuse services on par with the medical/surgical benefits. This federal law stipulates that group health programs and insurers can't discriminate against people with addiction and mental health problems by giving them less favorable coverage than those with other medical problems.

However, there is no requirement in this Act for health plans to include mental health and substance abuse benefits. Nevertheless, if such benefits are provided, they must not come with more restrictions than other benefits provided by the plan.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA)

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010, it brought about momentous changes to Medicaid programs for drug rehabilitation. In jurisdictions that chose to broaden Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, this law created a list of essential health services that states must provide via "alternative benefit plans," These coverages are separate from standard Medicaid benefit plans.

Addiction treatment is covered under the ACA's essential health benefits, so those newly eligible under any Medicaid expansion program may get it. Because of this, the Affordable Care Act also requires drug rehabilitation services to be covered by insurance plans equal to or better than those covered by the state's approved "basic health benefits" plan in certain situations.

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The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), enacted in 1993, protects employees who need to take time off work to care for themselves, their children, parents, or a spouse suffering from a severe health condition.

Employees may take advantage of FMLA to ask for a leave to seek treatment for substance use disorders and associated concerns, such as:

  • Addiction treatment for those who are addicted to alcohol or drugs.

  • Medications for treating physical ailments caused by drug or alcohol abuse, such as organ dysfunction.

  • A parent, child, or other close relative needs treatment for a substance use disorder or a drug-related health condition.


Under the FMLA, an employer is prohibited from demoting, firing, or refusing to promote an employee who uses their leave for things such as addiction treatment.

Specifically, the FMLA applies to "all governmental agencies, all public secondary and elementary academic institutions, and all businesses with 50 or more workers."  Employers are required to grant FMLA benefits to workers who have the following conditions:

  • You have worked for the company for a minimum of 12 months.

  • At least 1,250 hours were put into the job.

  • Work was completed at a site where the firm employs at least 50 people within 75 miles of the project site.


For qualifying individuals seeking treatment for a substance or alcohol use disorder or assisting a loved one battling addiction, the FMLA permits up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave without being fired. This leave of absence is not reimbursable. During that time, the FMLA gives workers access to group health insurance coverage to help with the cost of treatment, and it changes every year.

Unfortunately, not everyone is covered under the FMLA. It is restricted to only:

  • Employers in the federal government

  • Employers in the local government

  • Some large and well-established private corporations

  • Workers employed by the state


Also, you can only use FMLA leave for drug addiction treatment administered by a healthcare professional or by a practitioner of medical services on the recommendation of a health care provider under certain conditions. The FMLA doesn't apply when workers take time off to use the drug.


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You are less likely to lose your job due to addiction if you get adequate drug treatment as soon as possible. If you're already addicted to drugs or alcohol, your work performance will likely decrease due to your illness. Your job security will be at risk if you don't seek professional help. If you do not seek medical care, your employer may lawfully fire you for drinking or using drugs based on poor productivity. The good news is that someone working toward recovery has legal protections. If you seek drug treatment, the law will be on your side, and you will be protected from being fired.

It is not shameful to struggle with alcohol or drugs. A substance use disorder, like cancer or diabetes, is a treatable disease that may affect anybody. The problem is that most people in the United States shelve the idea of treatment because they fear the stigma or embarrassment that comes with addiction, especially at work.

Don't put off seeking help because you're worried about what your employer or coworkers may think. When you return to work after treatment, they'll most likely praise you for your courage to face the problem head-on.

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The law is on your side
The Americans with Disabilities Act
Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act
The Affordable Care Act
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
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