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Can an Employer Fire Someone for Going to Rehab?


Making the decision to enter rehab for alcohol or drug addiction is a huge step. It can be extra stressful when you have a job and are wondering what will happen if you leave for a rehabilitation program. However, in some cases, you may lose your job anyway if you don’t go to rehab. It’s important for both employees and employers to understand what protections employees have against being fired for attending rehab.

Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of persons with disabilities and prohibits discrimination against government employees and private sector employees at companies with 15 or more employees. Alcoholism can be considered a covered disability under the ADA, which means employees may have some protections against discrimination. Protection under the ADA is extended to alcoholics who are in recovery and no longer abusing alcohol. However, someone who is actively drinking is not afforded any protections under the ADA. This also means employers are not required to continue employing someone who is actively still drinking.

To qualify under the ADA, the employee in question must be qualified with a disability. This means the individual must be able to meet job-related requirements and have the ability to perform the job “with or without reasonable accommodation.” This might mean relaxing certain rules so the individual can call their sponsor during work hours, despite a policy of no personal calls during work. Taking a leave of absence or requesting a reduction of weekly hours in order to attend rehab is another example.

Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, may apply to some employees. This covers those who have been employed for at least 12 months and who have worked 1,250 hours minimum during the 12 months prior to FMLA leave, and are employed at a location with a minimum of 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. Private-sector employers qualify if they are a company who employ at least 50 people or more in 20 or more workweeks in the active calendar year, or the year before. Other places are covered automatically, no matter how many employees they have. These include local and federal government agencies and public or private elementary or secondary schools.

If you qualify and use FMLA leave, you cannot be fired for going to rehab. However, you must request FMLA prior to departure. If you don’t follow standard procedures for requesting leave, you could be fired. Don’t enter a treatment facility and then tell your employer as you won’t be protected then.

Exceptions to These Laws

Federal and state laws do not protect employees who abuse alcohol at work or anyone whose abuse keeps them from doing their job. Employees who drink on the job may be terminated without the accommodations as required under the ADA. While the laws try to provide protections for those going through rehabilitation, there is no reason that any employer should accommodate someone who is drinking while on duty.

Contact an Employment Lawyer

No matter whether you’re the employee or employer, the attorneys at Tobin O’Connor Concino P.C. have years of experience handling labor compliance matters in Washington DC, and surrounding areas. Contact our office to schedule a consultation.



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