Can You Be Fired if You Leave Rehab Early?

A recent court case raised an interesting question when it comes to employee protection when seeking treatment for addiction.

The Situation

An employee we will call “Joe” began taking over the counter medication for an injury he sustained at work.  Due to the addictive nature of Vicodin, be became addicted.

  • He saw several doctors to continue getting the drugs he wanted and narrowly missed overdosing in late 2009.
  • Joe finally recognized that he needed help and received a medical leave from his workplace so he could attend rehab.
  • After completing only the detox phase of the rehab treatment plan, Joe left the facility against the advice of the doctor who was treating him.
  • He did see his regular doctor and received clearance to return to work.
  • Upon returning to work he was told that he was in violation of company policy.  That policy said that anyone could be fired if they “reject treatment” or leave the treatment facility before the end of their scheduled treatment.
  • Joe returned to the rehab so he could keep his job.
  • Upon re-entry to the rehab, Joe tested positive for Hydrocodone (which he had a valid prescription for) and claimed he wasn’t abusing the drug because he was following the prescription
  • He again checked out of the facility after completing only the detox phase
  • He was fired from his job
  • Joe tried to sue his company based on the policies outlined in FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) and the ADA (American with Disabilities Act).
  • He lost both the original case as well as his appeal

Based on the rulings of the court, this is what everyone needs to know:

The policies of FMLA and ADA do both protect employees who are seeking treatment for drug addiction.

However, employees who refuse treatment or those who are currently still using drugs are not included in those protections.

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