FMLA and Substance Abuse Before Treatment

An employee’s actual substance abuse prior to hospital admission will not qualify for FMLA leave

February 19, 2008
Krzysztof Chalimoniuk worked for Interstate Brands Corp. until he was terminated in August 2000 for excessive absences. On July 28, 2000, Chalimoniuk failed to appear for work after he started drinking excessively. The next day, Chalimoniuk’s wife contacted a hospital to obtain treatment for her husband, but received no medical referral from his physician until August 2. Chalimoniuk was unable to obtain insurance approval for a treatment program or be admitted until August 4. Chalimoniuk continued inpatient treatment through August 10.

    IBC’s absence-based point tracking system required termination after 32 points, and Chalimoniuk had accumulated 23 points before his July and August absences.

    An August 11, 2000, FMLA form completed by his physician stated that Chalimoniuk had been hospitalized for "alcohol dependence and acute withdrawal syndrome," with his impairment lasting from July 29 through August 11, 2000. However, Chalimoniuk’s treatment had lasted only from August 4 through August 10. IBC concluded that Chalimoniuk’s absences before entering treatment were unexcused and subjected him to termination. Therefore, he was terminated because of his three-day absence before hospitalization.

    Chalimoniuk filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, alleging that his treatment began when he first sought professional help on July 29, and that entire period through August 10, not simply his hospitalization, qualified for FMLA leave.

    IBC cited regulations interpreting FMLA that "treatment" of alcoholism expressly excludes "absences because of the employee’s use of the substance, rather than treatment." The district court agreed, and dismissed the lawsuit. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed. Darst v. Interstate Brands Corp., 7th Cir., No. 04-2460 (1/11/2008).

    Impact: A worker’s substance abuse prior to hospitalization will not qualify for FMLA leave.

Workforce Management, February 4, 2008, p. 6 -- Subscribe Now!