Under California Labor Code sections 1025-1028, employers that employer 25 or more employees must provide reasonable accommodations to those employees who wish to voluntarily entering into a qualified drug rehab or alcohol rehab program. Effectively, this law prohibits discriminating or firing those employees who enter into a rehab program. However, the law allows the employers to refuse to hire or to fire those employees whose current use of alcohol or drugs renders them unable to effectively perform their job duties in a manner that’s safe for them or others.
In wrongful termination cases involving drug / alcohol issues and rehabilitation treatment, this often creates a tricky situation. The employer argues that the employee’s termination had nothing to do with participating in a rehab program, and that the real reason for termination was the fact that the employee was actually consuming drugs or was charged with some kind of crime or violation due to drug or alcohol consumption. The employee, on the other hand, claims that the real reason for termination was the fact that he took time off to go through the rehab treatment program.
If you are about to enter into a drug rehab program, or if you have already entered into such a program, it is important that you notify your employer in writing that the reason you are taking medical leave or sick time off is in order to attend a rehab program. If you don’t let your employer know and you keep that information confidential, but your employer ends up finding out about your past drug issue after you return from the drug rehab treatment anyway, they can safely terminate you and then later successfully argue that they had a legitimate reason to terminate you – your drug issues, and they couldn’t possibly discriminate against you because of your receiving rehab treatment since they didn’t even know about it. On the other hand, if you put the employer on notice of why exactly you are taking sick leave or FMLA, they can never claim later that they had know knowledge of your rehabilitation treatment.