What is FMLA?

woman using cellphone at workThe Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal labor law that allows people working for covered employers to take a leave of absence. Certain health conditions and family situations may require you to dedicate all the time you can to your or a loved one’s wellness.

If you or someone you love needs substance abuse treatment, your employer may allow you to use an FMLA-approved work release. Here’s what you need to know.

FMLA Guidelines for Covered Employers

Certain employers, known as “covered employers,” must provide employees with the option for an FMLA absence. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) requires the following employers to provide:

  • Public entities, including local, state, or federal government agencies, regardless of the number of employees.
  • Private-sector companies, with a minimum of 50 employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year, “including a joint employer or successor in interest to a covered employer.”
  • Public or private elementary or secondary schools, regardless of the number of employees on staff.

Some employers might also be required to follow specific family leave laws as outlined by their states or municipalities. Additionally, non-covered employers may include an FMLA option as part of a greater benefits package.

Federal guidelines regarding FMLA require covered employers to extend:

  • Approximately 12 weeks of “unpaid, job-protected leave.” You can use FMLA time off to handle serious health conditions that make it challenging to perform expected job duties; or to care for a spouse, child, or parent with medical issues. If you or your loved one is covered by a group health insurance plan, your policy remains active during FMLA leave as long as you pay the monthly premiums as usual.
  • Work release for your or a family member’s substance abuse treatment and follow-up care is approved for FMLA under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—but only if someone isn’t actively using illegal drugs.
  • Job restoration, which is the ability to “return to the same or an equivalent job at the end of your FMLA leave.” However, there are a few limitations to this policy, so make sure to review the fact sheets carefully before discussing your situation with your supervisor and human resources (HR) department.
  • Approximately 26 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave if you’re a covered military member or the caregiver of someone in the armed services.

FMLA leave may be taken all at once or incrementally.

Your Right to FMLA

As mentioned, the ADA allows for substance abuse rehabilitation or caring for someone in treatment to be eligible for an FMLA medical hiatus because it categorizes these conditions as disabilities. However, it’s important to understand the particular qualifications of the Act:

  • Someone with alcohol or drug addiction has a disability.
  • While current illicit drug use isn’t permitted, the ADA laws protect someone who was addicted to substances but is currently in outpatient or inpatient rehab.
  • It’s unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an individual with a history of drug or alcohol addiction.
  • The ADA protections are invalid if a person violates clear company policies by taking substances in the workplace or fails a drug test.

Employers must provide written, enforceable policies applicable to all employees universally. The policies at your workplace should outline clear directives regarding workplace expectations, substance abuse mandates, FMLA requirements, and allowed medical leave. You should be able to refer to the company handbook or other resources when discussing potential leave with your supervisor and an HR representative.

While there are both ADA and FMLA protections, you still must meet certain requirements to be eligible for extended medical leave. These include:

  • You’ve been an employee of the company for at least 12 months and supplied 1,250 hours of service.
  • Your employer is located within a 75-mile radius, or you have a sanctioned remote-work status as outlined by your company policies.
  • You work at a location with a minimum of 50 employees, or have special providence as outlined by your company policies.
  • You may be required to take all accrued vacation and sick leave prior to FMLA leave.

Even with this eligibility, employer policies might still dictate leave approval according to certain aspects of job performance or violation of company substance abuse policies. And while your employer can’t terminate you for taking FMLA leave, the law allows that factors of company performance might affect your job restoration. Review the numerous DOL fact sheets for more details about your rights to FMLA work release and employer requirements.

Also remember that in most cases, your employer will not only follow the law, but also perhaps also provide certain allotments for you and your loved one’s well-being. Having honest communication with your supervisor and workplace HR team might give you more insight into how the process will work best for you.

How Twin Lakes Can Help

The admissions specialists at Twin Lakes Recovery Center can provide you with information to help create a plan for your leave of absence. However, you usually have to request a Family and Medical Leave Act hiatus in writing at least 30 days prior to departure. Caregivers may have a bit more leniency if the need for their leave is more immediate. Either way, get the answers you need now to make the transition easier.

To learn more about our detox and treatment programs at Twin Lakes, Atlanta addiction specialist, please use the convenient contact form.
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