Leave for Alcohol/Drug Rehabilitation: Protections are Ensured by State and Federal Legislation

One of our employees has informed us of their intention to enter a six-week alcohol or drug rehabilitation program. As an employer, are we obligated to provide them with leave time?

According to state and federal laws, an employee seeking time off to enter a rehabilitation program for alcohol or drug use may be eligible for leave protections. In California, under Labor Code Section 1025, employers with 25 or more employees are required to reasonably accommodate an employee’s request to participate in a voluntary rehabilitation program, as long as it does not cause an undue hardship for the employer.

This leave protection applies to all employees, including new hires, and does not require them to meet any work eligibility requirements. An employer can only deny the request for leave if they can prove that it would cause an undue hardship for their business. However, determining what constitutes an undue hardship can be complex, so it is recommended that employers seek legal counsel before making a decision.

If an employee believes they have been denied reasonable accommodation, they can file a complaint with the state Labor Commissioner under Labor Code Section 1028. While employers are not required to provide paid time off for rehabilitation leave, employees can use their sick leave pay for this purpose under Labor Code Section 1027. Additionally, employees may be eligible for State Disability Insurance benefits while seeking treatment.

Employers must also make efforts to protect the privacy of the employee and cannot disclose their enrollment in a rehabilitation program under Labor Code Section 1026. It is important to note that this provision does not prevent an employer from refusing to hire or terminating an employee who is unable to perform their duties due to current alcohol or drug use, or if it endangers their own or others’ health and safety.

Aside from the Labor Code, alcohol or drug rehabilitation leave may also be covered under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for businesses with 50 or more employees, or the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) for businesses with five or more employees. These laws provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period. To be eligible, the employee must meet the work eligibility requirements and provide medical certification of a serious health condition.

In conclusion, employers may have to consider granting time off for alcohol or drug rehabilitation as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It is important for employers to be aware of their obligations and seek legal advice if needed to ensure compliance with these laws. 

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