Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession (7)5 May 99


Quick Summary: Substance abuse is a serious health condition.

   However, the Family and Medical Leave Act gives an employee the right to take leave only for treatment of a substance abuse disorder by a healthcare provider.

   Absences because of an employee’s use of a substance, rather than for treatment, do not qualify for Family and Medical Leave Act leave. UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT, OHIO, 1999.

   The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio recently threw out a lawsuit filed by an alcoholic employee against his former employer.

   The employee claimed he was wrongfully terminated for being absent from his job while incarcerated in the county jail for driving under the influence, which he attributed to his alcoholism. He claimed that his alcoholism was a serious health condition, and because it was a serious health condition he was entitled to leave from his job under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Because he was terminated for exercising his alleged rights under the Act, he claimed he had the right to sue his former employer for wrongful termination.

   The court agreed that a substance abuse disorder fits the legal definition of a serious health condition. However, according to the court, an employee can use his or her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act only to pursue treatment for a substance abuse disorder under the care of a healthcare provider, not for absences caused by substance abuse, like being in jail.

   Absences from the job caused by abuse of alcohol or other substances, apart from undergoing treatment, are not protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act, the court ruled. This was still true even though the employee did request time off for evaluation and treatment after it appeared he was going to be fired. Jeremy v. Northwest Ohio Development Center, 33 F. Supp. 2d 635 (N.D. Ohio, 1999).