Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for Rehab Guide

4 min read · 14 sections
What you will learn:
What is the FMLA?
FMLA Eligibility
The FMLA & The ADA
The Employer's Role in Treatment

What is the FMLA?

The Family Medical Leave Act is a federal law that was passed by President Clinton in 1993. The law aimed “to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families” by providing Americans with job stability and access to employer-provided healthcare during times of personal or family health crises.

Can the FMLA be Used for Rehab?

Yes. Addiction is a complicated disorder that affects a person’s physical, mental, and emotional health. Because of this, employees seeking addiction treatment are protected from job loss under the FMLA. For individuals suffering from addiction, those 12 weeks of medical leave can be the beginning of a journey toward recovery, and that in turn can yield many benefits for themselves and their employer.

Find out if your insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of rehab.

Can the FMLA Be Used for Mental Health Treatments?

Yes, you can use the FMLA to take time off for mental health treatments, as long as you have a serious mental health condition that is diagnosed by a licensed physician. The FMLA defines serious health conditions as anything requiring inpatient care or continuing treatment from a healthcare provider.1 Using that definition, myriad mental health conditions can apply, including both anxiety and stress.

Often, when a person has one mental health issue, it can co-occur with another. This is known as a co-occurring disorder. Unfortunately, about half of people who experience a mental illness will also end up developing a substance use disorder.2 The same goes for people who develop a substance use disorder first. If you’re among those with 2 linked conditions, it may be a good idea that you use FMLA time to treat them both at once.

What Qualifies as a Serious Health Condition Under FMLA?

A serious health condition is anything that prevents you from performing the essential duties of your job.1 This goes beyond just a really bad cold—it must be something that requires inpatient care or ongoing treatment from a professional. As you can imagine, this covers a wide array of health problems. Some examples of serious mental health conditions covered by the FMLA include:3

  • Memory disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Severe depression.
  • Severe bipolar disorder.
  • Schizophrenia.
  • Stress and anxiety.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

That’s just some of the qualifying mental health conditions. But what about physical health conditions? Some of the covered ones include: 3

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

Is Treatment and Rehab Confidential?

Yes, all substance abuse treatments and rehabs are always confidential. Your healthcare providers are legally not permitted to share your health information with anyone for any reason except to provide you care. This is because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).

HIPAA gives you control over who can access your health records, meaning you don’t have to share the details of your rehab with anyone if you don’t want to. With HIPAA, you can limit which providers and health insurance companies can see your information.4 This also means that if someone performs a background check on you, they won’t see any information regarding your medical record. The only way a person can look into your medical record is if they are providing you medical care, in which case, they’ll need your health history to make an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

What is the Average Length of Treatment?

The length of treatment depends on your personalized needs. A medical detoxification can last anywhere from a few days to weeks, while with inpatient treatment there are 30 day programs and more depending on your needs. Insurance coverage may also play a role in the length of treatment.

FMLA Eligibility

If you are living with drug and alcohol addiction, it is critically important that you get the help you need as soon as possible. With a little dedication and a strong support network, anyone can achieve sobriety. But how do you know if you’re covered by the FMLA?

Now, that first point may give more than a few people pause. What exactly is a “covered employer,” and what do you do if your office isn’t one? Don’t worry – the FMLA is broad enough to include most employers, except for some elected officials.

If an individual’s employment status meets these requirements, and they need to take time to enter substance abuse treatment, the FMLA ensures that they will have a job waiting for them when they return.

Take Our Substance Abuse Self-Assessment

Take our free, 5-minute substance abuse self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with substance abuse. The evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are intended to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a substance use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result.

The FMLA and the ADA

Just as the FMLA was designed to give American workers more home-life balance, the Americans with Disabilities Act was designed to give disabled American workers the same opportunities as those without disabilities. Thanks to the ADA, employers cannot discriminate against potential workers with disabilities, and they are required by law to provide these individuals with reasonable accommodations so they can do their work.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, alcoholism and drug addiction are considered disabilities under the ADA. This consideration prevents employers from discriminating against recovering addicts or alcoholics. However, addiction is also considered a special case under the ADA.

Unlike other disabilities, where an employer would have to accommodate the employee, individuals recovering from substance abuse are only protected from discrimination during the hiring process. An employer does have the right to discipline or terminate an employee if their addiction interferes with the essential functions of the job, or if they resume using the addictive substance.

An Employer’s Role in Treatment

Some employers may look at the brass tacks of the FMLA and balk (12 whole weeks of leave?!), but the act helps to promote productivity in the workplace and a healthier workforce. After all, a 1996 report in the Social Science Journal, cited by the United States Commission on Civil Rights, asserted that as many as 25 percent of Americans sometimes come to work under the influence of alcohol or an illicit drug.

By adhering to the FMLA and giving employees the chance to take care of themselves and their sobriety, an employer may see their office morale and productivity boost, and they’ll be helping to save an employee’s life in the process. However, this doesn’t mean an employer must forgive all transgressions from an employee who is using drugs. The Huffington Post suggests that employers draft a Return to Work agreement for employees entering treatment, which outlines the behavioral and performance expectations for the employee after they get sober.


The FMLA has made it possible for thousands of Americans to take care of their health and the health of their families with the knowledge that their job is secure. However, it is important to note that the FMLA only provides employees with 12 weeks of unpaid leave; individuals who take leave will have to account for this time through other means of income.

Can I Still Be Fired?

It is also important to note that neither the FMLA or the ADA cover individuals who are currently using drugs. If an individual’s addiction interferes with their ability to do their job, it is within an employer’s rights to terminate the person. This is precisely why eligible individuals suffering from substance abuse issues should use their FMLA-allotted time to begin their recovery journey. If they don’t, their addiction may end up costing them their job or worse.

Addiction in the United States: The Statistics

According to the Open Society Foundations’ publication, Defining the Addiction Treatment Gap, alcohol and drug addiction affects approximately 23.5 million Americans. However, only 2.6 million (about one in 10) of these people will receive the treatment they need to attain and maintain their sobriety.

United States Addictions Statistics

Drug and alcohol addiction is a destructive force that impacts people all around the world. If you’ve ever dealt with substance abuse, or if you’ve watched a loved one struggle with it, you understand the severity and totality with which this disease can affect a person’s entire world. When someone is trapped in the clutches of addiction, everything can be affected – their health, their friendships, and their career.

But addiction doesn’t have to destroy everything in a person’s life. In fact, many people find freedom and recovery every day. A stable life, including a support system and a steady job, is essential to a healthy recovery. And thanks to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), individuals who seek out treatment for substance abuse can get the treatment they need and still have a job to come back to.

What causes this tremendous treatment gap?

The answer depends on many factors.
First, many people don’t receive addiction treatment because they don’t feel they need it. As the popular 12-Step program explains, the first step to recovery is to admit that one’s life has become unmanageable due to drug or alcohol abuse. Until an individual realizes that they have a problem – either by their own admission or at the urging of their loved ones – the idea of getting treatment may never even cross their mind.
Even if an individual does want to receive treatment for substance abuse, many obstacles can stand in the way of the help they need. They may not have the funds available to enter a private treatment facility. They may not have family or friends close by who can take care of their children or pets. If they are working, they may fear that their employer will fire them for getting treatment, leaving them in financial straits once they become sober.

All these issues can impede a person’s journey to recovery, but they don’t have to. In fact, thanks to United States federal laws like FMLA, individuals struggling with addiction can get treatment and keep their jobs.

Addiction Stigma and the Need for Treatment

The FMLA is a great part of a larger societal effort to destigmatize addiction. As the American Society of Addiction Magazine points out, the cultural lexicon surrounding addiction tends to be dismissive and discouraging; words like junkie or crackhead demonize the individual instead of seeing them for who they are – a person struggling with a disorder.

Addiction is, as mentioned, a complex and difficult disease that affects the body and the mind. Individuals living with this condition deserve a chance to gain the tools necessary to overcome their substance abuse issues. Recovery is possible, but it requires assistance from friends, family, and even coworkers and employers. Thanks to the FMLA and the ADA, people around the country can begin their recovery and return to their jobs without judgement or stigma. For some, that can make all the difference.


  1. S. Department of Labor. (2009, December 21). The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, as amended.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, April). Common Comorbidities with Substance Use Disorders Research Report.
  3. Office of Human Resources Management. (n.d.). FMLA – Serious Health Condition.
  4. S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Your Health Information Privacy Rights.
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