Psychologist and professor Jordan Peterson rose to fame for his battle against forced speech but gained a following with his guidance on how to live your life. His book, 12 Rules for Life, sold millions of copies. Recently, he checked himself into rehab for clonazepam addiction. 

Mikhaila​ Peterson, Peterson's daughter, said, in a YouTube video, that he started taking this medication to deal with his wife's cancer diagnosis. Doctors prescribed this medication, and Peterson became addicted. He's now seeking treatment. (His wife, Tammy Roberts, is doing fine.) Peterson is a Canadian, although he was admitted to rehab somewhere in New York. But this is what you would need to know if he was your employee in the United States.

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects addicts.

Rehab for drug addiction is protected under the  Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Peterson's addiction was to a prescription drug, but it wouldn't matter if his addiction were illegal drugs or alcohol. Addiction is covered under ADA.

This doesn't mean you have to let your employee come to work drunk or even under the influence of some prescription drugs. (For instance, there are plenty of legitimate medications where you should not drive or use heavy machinery.)

You need to make a reasonable accommodation for your employee who needs rehab, and this may mean holding their job while they are in rehab. Businesses with 15 or more employees are eligible for ADA protections, and some states have lower thresholds.

FMLA also protects addicts.

Your employee could also be eligible for FMLA protection during their time away. FMLA requires a year of service at your company, plus a minimum number of hours worked, but ADA kicks in on the first day--provided you have 15 or more employees. 

If FMLA applies, the rights are much more concrete. You have to hold the job for up to 12 weeks, even if it doesn't seem like a reasonable thing for your business to do. If the person qualifies, they qualify. FMLA can also be used intermittently. Not all rehab programs are inpatient, and your employee may be willing and able to work some of the time.

Withhold your condemnation.

These laws not only protect your employee when they need time off or an accommodation, they also protect employees against retaliation. You couldn't say, "Hey, you needed to go to rehab, so clearly you're not qualified to do X job anymore." (Legitimate security and security clearance based jobs aside.) 

You have to make sure that you are not treating your employee differently because he went to rehab. You can't hold him to a higher standard than anyone else.

Your employee needs compassion, and it's the law that you don't punish the employee.

Keep your mouth shut.

As a general rule, employers aren't subject to  HIPAA, but you shouldn't share private information. If an employee is out for rehab, you let them say why they are out, and if not, then a simple, "John is out on FMLA. We're looking forward to his return." End of story. No one needs any other information. 

Your employee may be forthcoming about why he's gone, and he may not be. That's his choice; not yours.

A good rule of thumb when working with complicated laws is, "What would be the right thing to do?" Holding a job for someone who is making an effort to overcome an addiction is the right thing. And more often than not, it's also the legal thing to do.

Published on: Sep 23, 2019
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