Does time in alcohol rehab count for FMLA leave?

Q. If an employee is admitted to a nonmedical facility for alcohol addiction, can this leave qualify under the FMLA? If so, what documentation is acceptable? Can a letter from the facility be substituted for medical documentation? — Kathryn, New York

A. It’s not exactly clear what you mean by “nonmedical facil­­ity.” But, as I understand it, the employee is missing work to treat his or her alcohol addiction, which the FMLA regulations recognize may be a qualifying serious health condition.

However, the FMLA defines a serious health condition as “an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condi­­tion that involves

  (a) inpatient care in a hospital, hospice or residential medical care facility; or

  (b) continuing treatment by a health care provider.”


That means some “involvement” of a health care provider is necessary to trigger FMLA protection.

The FMLA regulation specifically addressing substance abuse (29 C.F.R. §825.119) says that leave related to substance abuse is available only when the employee is receiving treatment for substance abuse by a health care provider or by a provider of health care services “on referral” by a health care provider. If the employee sought care from a health care provider who suggested that he or she seek treatment from the “nonmedical facility,” that would be sufficient to qualify the time away from work as FMLA protected leave. Perhaps the employee can obtain a note confirming this is the case from his or her health care provider.