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In the realm of substance abuse and recovery in the workplace, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) plays a pivotal role in addressing employee absences related to alcohol or drug-related issues. In this segment, we explore the nuances of FMLA coverage for substance abuse-related absences and the implications for employers.

Coverage Under FMLA

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FMLA provides eligible employees with job-protected leave for qualifying medical and family reasons, including serious health conditions. While time off for treatment related to alcohol or drug abuse may be covered under FMLA, absences solely attributable to substance use or abuse generally do not fall within FMLA protections.

Serious Health Condition Determination

One key determinant for FMLA coverage is whether the absence is due to a “serious health condition.” Time off for treatment of alcohol or drug-related issues typically qualifies as a serious health condition under FMLA guidelines. However, absences resulting solely from substance use or abuse without seeking treatment may not meet the criteria for FMLA coverage.

Intermittent FMLA for Substance Abuse Treatment

Intermittent FMLA leave may be available for employees requiring periodic treatment or therapy for substance abuse issues. For example, individuals attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings or seeking outpatient counseling may be eligible for intermittent FMLA leave for their treatment schedule.

Family Member Care Provision

FMLA extends beyond employee health concerns to encompass caregiving responsibilities for family members with substance abuse issues. Employees may utilize FMLA leave to provide care for a family member experiencing alcohol or drug-related issues if the employee is “needed to care for” that family member, even if the family member is not undergoing formal medical treatment.

ADA and FMLA Interplay

Employees who exhaust FMLA leave for substance abuse-related issues may still be entitled to protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or Maine Human Rights Act when the FMLA time ends. While FMLA provides job-protected leave, the ADA/MHRA mandate reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, including those related to substance abuse.

Reasonable Accommodation Considerations

Once FMLA leave is exhausted, employers must assess whether additional leave or accommodations are necessary under the ADA/MHRA. While FMLA leave is an entitlement for eligible employees, ADA/MHRA accommodations involve providing additional support beyond FMLA statutory requirements to facilitate an employee’s return to work.

Legal Considerations and Compliance

Navigating the intersection of FMLA and ADA/MHRA requires careful consideration of legal requirements and compliance obligations. Employers must ensure adherence to FMLA regulations while also fulfilling their obligations under the ADA/MHRA to avoid potential legal liabilities.


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FMLA serves as a crucial framework for addressing substance abuse-related absences in the workplace, offering employees necessary time off for treatment while protecting their job security. By understanding the nuances of FMLA coverage and its interaction with ADA/MHRA provisions, employers can effectively support employees dealing with substance abuse issues while maintaining compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

If you haven’t explored the earlier parts of this series, we encourage you to review Part 1, which introduces workers’ compensation laws in the context of substance abuse, and Part 2, focusing on the ADA and Maine Human Rights Act. These articles lay the groundwork for comprehensively addressing substance abuse in the workplace and offer insights into creating a supportive and legal framework around this issue.

For a deeper dive into these topics, we invite you to access a downloadable recording of our comprehensive workshop on Substance Abuse and Recovery in the Workplace, led by attorney Anne-Marie Storey. This workshop expands on the themes discussed in our series and provides actionable strategies for employers. To watch the workshop and enhance your understanding of navigating substance abuse issues within the legal landscape of employment, please opt-in here.

Join our Annual Employment Conference waitlist to receive the latest employment updates and early registration access! Sign up here.

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