The national rise in drug and alcohol abuse impacts all parts of American life, including the workforce.
According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 6.4% of Americans over the age of 12 had alcohol use disorder and 2.7% illicit drug use disorder that year. In nearby Appalachia, substance abuse-related deaths have increased by more than 1000% since 1980, and deaths due to mental and substance abuse disorders have nearly tripled nationwide. Furthermore, since working-aged adults have been particularly hard-hit, you may very well encounter issues related to addiction in your role as an employer.
How you deal with this health crisis in the workplace could make all the difference to how your business fares. The prevailing belief in the business community is that continuing to employ an addict poses a greater cost to businesses than dismissal. In reality, companies that create a recovery-positive workplace stand to see substantial gains. During this national epidemic, addiction can have a huge impact on a business, but it is your choice what that impact will be.
The Cost of Termination
Although addiction recovery professionals have recognized drug and alcohol addiction as medical disorders for some time now, the business community continues to respond to addiction as if it were a character deficiency. Drug and alcohol abuse is one of the top reasons of termination for cause, and many companies include policies specific to substance abuse in their codes of conduct.
Of course, irresponsible action at odds with business culture and safety should not be tolerated in the workplace. Even under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)*, businesses are well within their rights to dismiss employees who come to work under the influence or who engage in illegal transactions in the workplace. Additionally, due to the nature of for cause terminations, employers do not usually have to provide unemployment or severance pay to the terminated employee.
Nevertheless, each of these terminations represents a failed investment. In 2012, the Center for American Progress, found that discharging an employee typically costs businesses one-fifth of the employee’s annual salary, even without unemployment and severance pay. Such losses include the costs of hiring, training, and the lower productivity of new hires. Firing poses a high cost to employers in the short term. Employers are therefore faced with a financial and ethical question: is the long term recovery of the individual a good investment?
The Benefits of Sustained Employment
Although addiction recovery programs cannot be expected to “cure,” taking the risk of supporting employees through the recovery process can have substantial long-term benefits, including:
- Balancing the costs of termination against the costs of care. Residential and intensive outpatient treatment programs can be anywhere from 30 days to a year in duration. An individual receives the most personal benefit from staying in a treatment program for a minimum of 90 days. By choosing to sustain employment throughout recovery, you are investing in the employee’s potential––her potential for sobriety, her potential for health, and her potential as a member of your team. This strategy is not without its risks, but the returns can be great. You spend markedly less to help the current employee than you would to recruit, train, and hone the skills of a new hire, and you gain the services of a tried and true professional. What is more, you have contributed to an employee’s overall wellbeing!
- Participating in supported employment programs. If you want to get proactive about your business’s approach to addiction, you might also choose to seek out new hires who are in recovery. Many people in recovery struggle to regain a sense of normalcy after leaving residential treatment, particularly if they find it difficult to obtain steady employment.
- Removing the income, routine, social support, and self-confidence that a job provides could worsen addiction and make successful recovery more difficult to achieve. On the other hand, when the work community chooses to embrace an addicted individual, rather than stigmatizing and isolating him, the chances of recovery substantially improve.
- There are programs available, like supported employment programs and employment assistance programs, to help you offset the risks of investing in somebody else’s second chance. Supported employment programs often supplement the first-year salary of a participating candidate who might otherwise be at a disadvantage in securing work (e.g., because of past criminal convictions, addiction-related terminations, or lengthy recovery periods).
- These programs also continue to work with candidates after they are hired to keep their jobs and to thrive in their new workplace. By partnering with a supported employment program, you just might land a dream candidate while also saving money and receiving valuable training services from an outside organization.
- Promoting job satisfaction and loyalty. By supporting employees in recovery, you have also created strong reasons for job satisfaction and loyalty in your workforce. These attitudes could directly affect your bottom line. Americans who experience a high degree of job satisfaction work harder, display more engagement, show up to work with greater regularity, and stay with an employer longer than those with low job satisfaction. Appreciation, job security, and company values are identified as main contributors to job satisfaction across the board, all of which are demonstrated by your commitment to employees in supporting recovery.
If you are ready to commit to employees in recovery, there are many resources to help you on your way, from the Job Accommodation Network’s (JAN) recommendations for alcohol and drug addiction accommodations and ADA compliance to location and industry specific information such as the South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) guide for safety and security sensitive industries. In creating a recovery-positive workplace you are not only getting your business “up to code” but also making the financially and socially responsible choice.
- Legal Note: Individual business initiatives aside, employers are legally required to provide accommodations to employees who have struggled with addiction. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not classify addiction as a disability; however, Title I of the ADA does afford some workplace protections to individuals practicing addiction recovery. Since I am not a lawyer, this article has not attempted to address these legal complexities and should in no way be taken as a substitute for legal counsel. If you have questions about ADA compliance, see the ADA website for a detailed, plain English description of requirements or call the US Department of Justice hotline for advice on your particular situation.