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 It often feels unprofessional or can be considered taboo in companies or places of higher learning to take time off for personal reasons. You may feel like you’re burdening coworkers with your workload when you take paternity leave. You may feel guilty for taking time off to seek treatment for a medical illness. 
Sadly, we often have expectations placed on us regarding what’s right and wrong when it comes to taking a leave of absence. Even the best company cultures can be influenced by an atmosphere that makes taking personal time off difficult.
One of the most serious and important situations when a personal leave of absence is relevant is when it comes to substance use treatment. In this article, we’ll explore the questions that arise regarding this topic, leave of absence laws and how your job should accommodate treatment.

Taking a leave of absence for mental health

There are plenty of reasons to take a leave of absence from work or school, and one of the most important is taking a leave of absence to treat a mental health or substance use disorder. This concept is often initially met with questions like, “can my employer fire me for admitting to substance use?” and “do I have to take a vacation for treatment?”
Sadly, taking time off from work or school can be a deterrent to possible life-saving help. If you find yourself in this type of situation, here’s what you need to know about your rights in regard to personal time. 


In order to take advantage of this type of leave, you’ll first need to talk with your healthcare provider. A formal diagnosis can make the process go more smoothly. Your main job protection will be through a federal law, often called FMLA. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides covered employees with job protection to take care of themselves or a family member who presents with a disability.
You’ll know if you’re covered by talking to your human resources department or if you fit these requirements outlined:
  • Have worked for your employer for at least 12 months
  • Have at least 1,250 hours of service for your employer before you take leave
  • Have worked at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles.

FMLA guarantees that individuals are guaranteed 12 work weeks of FMLA leave each year, continued benefits and restoration to the same position upon returning to work. Moreover, under these leave of absence laws, you cannot lose your job for sharing that you’re seeking treatment for a substance use disorder. Although, you are still in compliance with the company’s policies regarding current substance use at work or substance use that interferes with work.

You can learn more about the specifics of leave of absence laws here.


The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal law prohibiting discrimination against workers with disabilities. Private companies with more than 15 workers and state and local government employers must comply with the ADA.

To qualify for protection, you must demonstrate that you have a disability that substantially diminishes one or more major life activities. Put another way, you’re required to show that your condition, if left untreated, would interfere with your daily or work activities. Examples include trouble with concentration, communication or regulation of emotions.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities within programs or activities operated by organizations that receive federal funds. Most schools receive some type of federal funding. When you have a debilitating medical or mental health condition, such as addiction, you’re covered under Section 504, which forbids your school from discriminating against you based on the nature of your condition.

Each school will have its own policy regarding time off from classes for medical or mental health concerns. It’s best to check with the student office or student policy handbook in order to decide on a plan of action.

Taking a medical leave of absence

A medical leave of absence is not the same as using your vacation days or taking personal time off. A medical leave of absence requires eligibility and documentation of a disability. This can include any condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance use disorders and so forth.
There are plenty of reasons to take a medical leave of absence. It’s best to discuss your personal reasons with your healthcare provider and your human resources department separately. When taking a leave of absence for mental health, you’ll want to have a plan in place for how you’re going to address your condition during leave, such as inpatient treatment or therapy.

Taking intermittent leave of absence

Any time you take a leave of absence from work, it’s reasonable to take time off in a way that alleviates some stress or pain, or personal struggle. For many, the circumstances that put work on the back burner are unpredictable, though. Taking a leave of absence isn’t necessarily helpful if it is only allowed for a span of a few weeks and the conditions linger, continuing to affect work or school.
Taking time off as needed, instead of a continuous chunk of time, is called an intermittent leave of absence. A person may take an intermittent leave of absence to care for a sick child, address personal mental health concerns or take care of an elderly relative. These demands aren’t always predictable, and an intermittent leave of absence allows for flexibility when you need it most.

Substance use or mental health treatment

Healing from a mental health or substance use disorder isn’t something that happens overnight. It can feel impossible to leave behind responsibilities at work or school to pursue your own recovery. A big step in finding healing is accepting that a temporary break from your normal schedule might be tough, but it will be worth it when you can really commit to treatment.
After all, you’re likely to find that you’re better at your job, more productive at school and happier when you’ve found some relief from a mental health disorder.
Don’t wait to better your life. A leave of absence for mental health or substance use is the path you need to take. For yourself, for your family, for your career and for your education. A brief or intermittent leave of absence will decrease your stress and help you function at your best.
Get help for substance abuse or mental health concerns by calling Silvermist Recovery today.