Many people tackle multiple responsibilities in their lives daily. It is common for people to go for a few drinks after work to help them relax and unwind, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, it becomes a problem when some people become dependent or addicted to alcohol to help them perform even the most basic functions. Worse still, some people end up carrying their alcoholism to work, generating problems for their employers, coworkers, and themselves. Alcoholism in any workplace can be a significant financial strain for companies regarding on-the-job injuries, employee health complications, reduced efficiency and productivity, and absenteeism.
If you are suffering from alcohol addiction and would like to get treatment and maintain sobriety, certain factors may hold you back. Some people may not want the stigma associated with rehab, or they may be scared to go into withdrawal or lose friends during the treatment process. Most people looking to treat their alcohol addiction may also be worried that taking an extended leave of absence from their work could mean losing their jobs. Fortunately, there are laws protecting your job if you choose to get treatment for any addiction. One law is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
What Is the Family and Medical Leave Act?
The FMLA is a federal statute offering employees unpaid leave of up to 12 weeks annually if they have a medical emergency. This period of unpaid leave comes without any threat of job loss, meaning that firing an employee for a medical condition violates the Family and Medical Leave Act. The FMLA protection for employees applies if you:
- Have another applicable contingency (military service)
- Have a child
- Cannot work because you are caring for a family member with a severe medical condition
- Have a serious medical condition preventing you from working
The FMLA applies to all employees working for public agencies (inclusive of schools). For those who work in the private sector, businesses with 50 employees or more during the previous or current year qualify. The law allows people to go for alcoholism treatment without fearing that they could lose their jobs. During the leave, individuals can still access medical benefits such as health insurance coverage from their employers.
Does Alcoholism Treatment Apply under the FMLA?
Alcoholism treatment is considered a severe medical condition under FMLA guidelines only if the employee meets specific standards established by the Department of Labor. The FMLA standards state that serious health conditions allowing an employee to go on FMLA leave include a mental or physical illness that calls for inpatient care or ongoing treatment. Employees who are also seen as incapacitated by their alcohol or substance abuse can qualify for FMLA protection. Incapacity is defined under the FMLA as the inability to perform regular daily activities such as attending school or working due to recovery, treatment, or a serious health condition. The FMLA might cover substance abuse or alcoholism if they meet those requirements. This is because addiction is a persistent health condition that affects the functioning and structure of your body and your brain, affecting one’s ability to perform daily duties. However, the law does not offer protection for absenteeism from work due to alcohol use. The leave can also cover an employee undergoing alcoholism treatment, but only if a healthcare provider recommends it. This means that employees who are suffering from alcohol and substance abuse cannot just use the FMLA to miss work because of their problem.
Using FMLA to Get Alcohol Addiction Treatment
If you want to apply for FMLA leave, you need to talk to the HR representative at your workplace or refer to your employee handbook first. There may be a procedure you need to follow before going on leave, i.e., informing your employer of your reasons for going on leave a couple of weeks beforehand. You also need to know that the FMLA only enables you to go on leave for substance or alcohol abuse treatment. It does not cover you from the resulting consequences of neglecting your duties or missing work due to alcohol abuse.
Your employer may also request to see proof supporting your leave request, which can be in the form of a medical certificate from your healthcare provider. You will also need to have your treating doctor or healthcare provider sign and fill out some documents to show your employer.
For many people suffering from alcohol addiction, the most challenging part of getting treatment and maintaining one’s job is revealing the problem to their employer. Addiction still has a lot of stigmatization; even though it is considered a disease, some people may feel uncomfortable or afraid to discuss it with their employers. However, it is important to discuss one’s addiction and need for treatment with their employer to accommodate your treatment needs. By law, your employer is not supposed to reveal any of your health information, including information about your alcohol addiction or addiction treatment.
Alcohol addiction can affect your ability to do well at work, possibly leading to performance issues and even termination. Instead of waiting for your employer to talk to you about your addiction, be honest and open with them about the addiction and tell them you want to seek treatment.
Before going to your employer, ensure you go through the company policies regarding alcohol and drugs and find out if FMLA applies to you. If you go to your employer with this information, it shows you are serious about getting treatment and staying employed at that company. Let the employer know you are ready to overcome your alcohol addiction and require their support to do it so that you can get the treatment you need.