Understanding Your Rights: Going to Rehab Without Losing Your Job

The decision to seek addiction treatment for substance abuse can be a daunting one. One of the things many people worry about is: “Can I get fired for going to rehab?” The fear and stress of job loss and career setbacks prevents so many people from seeking the care they need. Please continue reading to learn more about job protection during rehab.

Can You Get Fired for Going to Alcohol or Drug Rehab?

Fortunately, there are laws to protect you from being fired for going to rehab. However, you can get fired for going to rehab if you are still using drugs or alcohol or if your substance abuse interferes with your ability to do your job safely and effectively.

Rights, Laws, and Protections for Going to Rehab

Family and Medical Leave Act, 1993

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave because of a serious health condition. The health condition can affect either you or a loved one.

Under FMLA, your employer cannot retaliate against you in any way for seeking addiction treatment. In other words, they cannot fire you, demote you, or refuse to promote you because you took time off for an addiction treatment program or to care for a close family member undergoing alcohol or drug rehab.

Eligibility Requirements for FMLA Leave

FMLA is applicable to all public agencies and private employers with more than 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. To qualify for FMLA you should have:

  • Worked for your employer for at least one year.
  • Worked at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months.

Can I Use FMLA for Drug or Alcohol Rehab?

Yes, you can use FMLA for drug or alcohol rehab. FMLA leave is applicable to all serious health conditions including:

  • Treatment of drug or alcohol addiction.
  • Treatment of a physical illness related to substance use (such as liver failure).
  • Caring for a close family member (parent, spouse, or child) who is undergoing treatment for alcohol or drug abuse or related health conditions.

Is FMLA Leave Paid or Unpaid?

FMLA leave is usually unpaid and non-reimbursable. However, you may be able to use accrued paid leave during the FMLA period. You may also be able to access group healthcare benefits during FMLA leave to help cover the cost of your addiction treatment.

Americans With Disabilities Act, 1990

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal legislation that prohibits employers in the US with more than 15 employees from discriminating against employees or qualified job applicants because of a physical disability.

Under the ADA, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against recovering drug users and alcoholics who have already sought addiction treatment.

However, the ADA does not prohibit employers from maintaining a drug-free workplace. To this end, it does not protect individuals who are currently using illegal drugs.

What are my rights under the ADA?

Your rights under the ADA prohibit your employer from firing you, refusing to hire you, or refusing to promote you because:

  • You have a history of substance use.
  • You are attending a drug or alcohol rehabilitation program.

Note that your employer is allowed to have drug-testing programs in place. They cannot, however, single you out for drug testing based on your appearance or behaviors that may give the impression that you are using drugs or alcohol.

In other words, they cannot single you out for drug testing based on physical symptoms such as disorientation, slurred speech, or poor coordination. These physical symptoms can be signs of intoxication but can also be caused by serious physical disabilities and medical conditions such as fluctuations in blood sugar levels and mental illnesses.

If you have a medical condition that causes symptoms similar to intoxication and your employer singles you out for drug testing or disciplinary action, they can be charged with discrimination.

What about legal prescription drugs?

The case law is still evolving, but employers are required to refrain from asking employees about legal prescription drug use during drug testing as part of the pre-hiring or pre-promotion process.

Employment Protections Under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides additional discrimination protection to job applicants and employees based on disabilities. It is applicable to federal employment, programs conducted by federal agencies, programs that receive financial assistance from the federal government, and federal contractors’ employees.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is a federal law that protects sensitive patient health information from being disclosed to anyone without the patient’s consent or knowledge.

This means your employer can ask for a note from your healthcare provider and request other health information if they need to. For example, information required to approve sick leave or workers’ compensation or to evaluate your eligibility for health insurance or wellness programs.

However, your employer cannot ask your health care provider directly for any information about you unless you authorize it. HIPAA also prohibits your healthcare provider from giving your employer any health information without your authorization, unless required by law.

How to Tell Your Employer About Going to Rehab

Time and Place

Disclosing to your employer your intention to attend drug or alcohol rehab can be a tough thing to do. It’s important to choose an appropriate time and place to have this potentially difficult conversation. Choose a private place and pick a time when you aren’t likely to be interrupted.


It also helps to prepare for the conversation in advance. Practice what you’re going to say, perhaps with a friend or family member. Go over the answers to any possible questions your employer might have.


It’s important to be honest and forthright with your employer about seeking addiction treatment for alcohol or drug abuse. Share your personal challenges with substance abuse and your decision to proactively seek treatment. Emphasize your commitment to sobering up and doing your job to the best of your ability once you complete the treatment program.

Do you have a loved one struggling with addiction?

We know how hard that can be. Give us a call to find out what options you have.

Someone is standing by 24/7 to help you


It may be helpful to arm yourself with basic information concerning substance use disorders and addiction treatment before approaching your employer. This will help your employer understand that addiction is a medical condition, just like diabetes and cancer. It will also show your employer how seeking addiction treatment is a step towards becoming a more efficient employee.


Reassure your employer that you have anticipated and addressed any concerns that may arise from your absence. For example, extra workload for your coworkers, upcoming deadlines, or schedule adjustments. Offer possible solutions to make any temporary disruptions as manageable as possible.

Company Policy

Discuss the company policy for FMLA with your employer. You have both rights and responsibilities under this law. Talk to your employer about:

  • How the company defines the 12-week period to track FMLA usage. Some companies use the calendar year while others use the date your leave starts and yet others use your anniversary date of joining the company.
  • Any medical documentation or certification that will be required from your healthcare provider.
  • Whether you can use any accrued paid leave or whether your employer requires you to use paid leave.
  • If your benefits will be maintained under the employer’s healthcare plan and whether any premium payments will be required.
  • Your right to return to your job at the same or nearly identical position when your FMLA leave ends.

Returning to Work After Treatment

The prospect of returning to work after drug rehab can be frightening and intimidating. However, it is an important part of your recovery.

Your rights under FMLA regulations guarantee that you can return to the same position or a very similar position after your leave.

Along with your rights, you also have some duties towards your employer. For instance, your employer may ask you to sign a return-to-work agreement after completing alcohol or drug rehab. This confidential agreement outlines the expectations your employer has going forward.

For example, your employer may require you to remain abstinent from drug or alcohol use and to follow through with treatment recommendations made by your healthcare providers. These expectations play a vital role in your recovery by keeping you accountable.

Common Questions

Can I continue working while going to rehab?

You may be able to continue working while going to rehab. There are different treatment options for those seeking substance abuse treatment, including:

  • Detoxification programs
  • Inpatient (residential) treatment programs
  • Outpatient rehab programs

Outpatient programs for alcohol and drug use involve attending treatment sessions at a rehab facility while continuing to live at home. These programs give you the flexibility to continue working and fulfilling other responsibilities while going to rehab.

You may need to attend therapy sessions and receive other services for 9 or more hours each week (3 hours a day on 3 days of the week). Some facilities offer flexibility, such as attending 9 hours on the weekends.

How much time do I need to take off work for drug rehab?

The treatment duration for substance use disorders varies from person to person. Many rehab facilities offer 30-, 60-, and 90-day programs. However, there is no universally accepted length of addiction treatment that is successful for everyone.

Various factors, such as the duration and severity of your drug or alcohol use disorder, co-occurring mental health conditions, and your lifestyle can impact the length of addiction treatment.

At Discover Recovery, we develop an individualized treatment plan for each client based on their unique needs. This maximizes your chances of success by addressing the root causes of your substance use disorder.

Do I have to disclose I went to rehab to a future employer?

You may have to disclose you went to rehab during pre-employment discussions with a new employer. However, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) protects you from discrimination based on the information you provide. For instance, your employer can ask about:

  • Current use of alcohol or illegal drugs.
  • Your willingness to take a drug test.
  • Past drug or alcohol use after a conditional job offer is made, provided this question is asked to all employees interviewing for a particular position.

A prospective employer cannot ask you about:

  • Use of legal prescription drugs.
  • Past addiction to illegal drugs.
  • Past participation in alcohol or drug rehab programs.

Can my past employer tell future employers I was let go due to substance abuse?

Your past employer can disclose information about your job performance and the reasons you were let go to a prospective new employer. These statements must be truthful. However, most employers refrain from sharing such information to avoid any discrimination claims.

The law on disclosures by past employers to new employers varies from state to state. Under the ADA, past drug and alcohol addiction is considered a disability. You cannot be fired based on gender, race, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, or disability.

Begin Your Recovery Journey Today

Now that you understand your employment rights regarding alcohol and drug addiction treatment, there’s no reason to delay seeking help. There are laws to ensure job protection during rehab as long as you follow the rules. Rehab can help you get your life back on track. Seeking treatment can allow you to progress in your career without the stress of potential job loss.

At Discover Recovery Treatment Center, we offer a range of evidence-based programs for alcohol and drug recovery. Call us today and find out how you can benefit from our tailored programs, including detox, inpatient (residential) programs, and outpatient rehab.

Note: This article is for information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal professional for advice about your specific case.

More Information On Our COVID19 Response Plan

Learn more about our programs

learn more

Verify Insurance

At Discover Recovery, we work with a wide variety of health insurance providers so those in need can get access to the treatment they need. That means you (or your loved one) won’t have to worry about covering the cost of treatment. Instead, all of your energy and focus can be spent where it’s really needed, which is on overcoming addiction.

Available to help 24/7

Call Us Today