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I’m Going to Rehab — What Do I Tell My Boss?

Updated on December 11, 2013

Many people facing the prospect of rehab think that asking for time off from work will be the biggest obstacle; after all, inpatient rehabs don’t let you leave the facility until your program is complete. Not to mention, these programs can take anywhere from one to three months to finish. How can you explain to your boss you need three months off from work to go to rehab — without getting fired?

Fortunately, the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act protect your right to take time off from work to attend rehab, and also protect you from employment discrimination based on your status as a recovering addict. As long as your addiction has not affected your job performance, your boss has to give you time off for rehab.

Know Your Rights Under the Americans With Disabilities Act

13.3 million Americans report having trouble finding or keeping a job because of a disability. The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, or ADA, protects disable employees from job discrimination. The law considers addiction a form of disability, so your boss can’t fire you because you need addiction treatment, are going through addiction treatment or have had addiction treatment in the past.

You should be aware this law doesn’t protect you from termination if you let your substance abuse affect your professional performance. It also doesn’t protect you from being fired if you use illegal substances on the job.

Know Your Rights Under the Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, or FMLA, requires your boss to give you up to 12 weeks of medical leave per calendar year. Fifty-nine percent of American workers – 90 million people – are covered by the FMLA to take time off each year to care for their own medical needs or those of a family member. One-sixth of these workers take FMLA leave each year.

Rehab is one of many treatments you’re entitled to take medical leave for under the FMLA. If you are employed by a school, or work for the local, state or federal government, or if you work for a private sector employer with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius, you are protected by this law if you have worked there for at least a year prior to your leave and have put in 1,250 hours during that year. If your employer balks at giving you time off for rehab, don’t be afraid to assert your legal rights.

How to Break the News That You Need Time Off for Rehab

Asking your boss for time off for rehab can be nerve-wracking, but remember others are often more sympathetic of our troubles than we give them credit for. Your boss is human, and he or she will probably be more concerned for your well-being than for any potential inconvenience your temporary absence may cause to the company. Plus, your boss knows getting treatment will only improve your professional performance in the long run, so he or she will probably support your plan to find treatment from a qualified rehab.

When you tell your boss that you need time off for rehab, be honest with him or her about why you want one to three months leave. Don’t just say “personal reasons” in an effort to protect your privacy; to gain the protection afforded by the ADA and the FMLA, you need to specifically say you have a substance abuse problem and need to go away for treatment at an accredited rehab facility.

If you’re concerned about getting time off from work to go to rehab, don’t be. There are legal protections in place that prevent your employer from firing you because you have a substance abuse problem, and that require your employer to give you time off. Be honest with your boss about your needs; you may be surprised at how well he or she takes the news.

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