Recovery-to-Work Learning Community Call on Employer Engagement: Key Takeaways


Even with the backdrop of the pandemic, the Learning Academy core teams have done great work over the past year in developing plans and collaborating to help workers with substance use disorder in getting or keeping jobs. To support the Academy teams in implementing these plans, DDAA is hosting a series of Recovery-to-Work Learning Community calls to provide a space for team members to meet with peers to discuss challenges, best practices, needs, and opportunities for collaboration. The first call of the Learning Communities was on employer engagement.

During the employer engagement call, Academy team members discussed lessons learned about recruiting employers to join efforts to hire and retain workers with SUD. To give an employers’ perspective, Dale Weed, President of Pure Functions Foods in Savannah, NY, and Lisa Uhrik, President of Franklin Fixtures in Cookeville, TN, shared their experiences as employers hiring worker with SUD and provided practical tips for organizations looking to engage employers on the issue. The speakers shared the following tips for organizations who want to partner with employers:

    • Target small businesses who are purpose-driven as partners rather than large companies due to risk levels and latitude for action
    • Build closer relationships with employers by delivering services that make you a regular “face” with these employers — normalizing your presence
    • Deliver community-based and peer-based mentorship programs in your community as a path to work. Click here to watch a video of Lisa Uhrik sharing a powerful example of the type of impact these programs can have on people’s lives

For employers who want to hire and retain workers with SUD, or organizations who want to inform employers about hiring workers with SUD, consider the following tips:

  • Enforce simple rules stating the desired condition rather than a list of things you don’t want to see, and manage to those desired behaviors
  • Maintain a thoughtful employee selection process that includes evidenced-based interviewing, such as scores to reduce bias
  • Cultivate short term, casual, and regular employee reviews to check in and manage early stresses
  • Develop an on-site confidential employee assistance program (this works best for larger employers)
  • Detect and realign employee problems and problem behavior early in their development – don’t assume problems will go away but treat them as opportunities to strengthen the team

Academy teams also discussed their region’s models and approaches to address this challenge. One example is New York’s Recovery Tax Credit that incentivizes employers to hire workers with SUD and reduce stigma surrounding addiction. In addition to the tax credit, Julie Dostal from the New York team has engaged employers in a 3-hour workshop on addiction in the workplace. She uses these engagements to recruit employers to a ‘peer specialist program’ where a trained peer specialist partners with a potential employee with SUD and supports them as well as the employer during their employment.

Local public agencies and/or non-profits can further support employers and reduce their risk for hiring workers with SUD by providing life skills trainings to help prepare them for the job interview process and adjust to workplace norms, as well as providing a single point of contact at the state or local agencies to identify new workers with SUD and available services to support them within the region.