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


Members of the Recovery-to-Work Cohort Learning Academy regional teams joined a recent learning community call on employer resources, which was aimed at building on the lessons learned during a similar call focused on employer engagement. The employer resources call aimed to answer the question: “How can regions support employers that want to be an active member of a recovery-to-work ecosystem? Once employers are engaged, what next?” Call participants represented organizations across the four Learning Academy regions including local development districts, chambers of commerce, recovery councils, and training programs. Over the course of the call, participants outlined a comprehensive approach for regions that want to build more robust employer support and identified important lessons learned in this work.

A Comprehensive Approach to Working with Employers

A comprehensive approach to working with employers starts with identifying and responding to employer needs instead of promoting a program. In the Mid-Ohio Valley, for example, local businesses and chambers were focused on high turnover and low workforce participation rates in the area. Employers weren’t aware of the true extent of the SUD crisis, and were misattributing its impact to other issues. The local development district was able identify how recovery to work initiatives could help chamber members address hiring and retention issues.

The next step in this comprehensive approach is providing a customized solution that responds to the employer’s needs. Many of these solutions involve a model that connects an employee in recovery to a peer specialist (also referred to as recovery coach, peer specialist, or peer advocate). Ohio Valley identified employee retention as a primary challenge faced by employers and chose the Employer Resource Network national model to address the issue. The model uses success coaches to provide onsite services throughout the work week. These coaches’ time can be purchased by employers for a site visit and consultation services. These coaches can connect resources to clients to help people stay on the job without needing to take time off work to address other barriers. HR departments in these companies are typically very overworked and don’t often have the time or knowledge to connect struggling employees with available resources. A worker missing a shift can cost an employer $500 or more, so paying for the coach can often be an effective cost saving measure.

Another important part of a comprehensive approach is providing access to a full spectrum of employer resources such as toolkits and technical assistance workshops. In addition to a robust peer support model, there are a range of resources that can help employers mitigate risk, update HR policies, and address addiction in the workplace. In the Southern Tier 8 region of New York, the local chamber of commerce partners with the LEAF Council on Alcoholism and Addictions to hold a three-hour workshop for high level management teams from around the area to address addiction in the workplace. These workshops offer employers an opportunity to speak with a lawyer specializing in ADA compliance and working with individuals with disabilities. This lawyer helps identify what accessibility measures are and are not required to help people in recovery, clarifying that while employers do need to accommodate recovery, they do not need to accommodate active addiction. The rest of the workshop includes an overview of the science of addiction and demystify the process of long-term recovery, a discussion on what a recovery coach or peer specialist is and the role they can play to get people back to work, and a talk from someone who has experience in hiring people in recovery who can testify to the benefits of the recovery to work hiring process.

  • Several state chambers of commerce, including Tennessee and Ohio, have developed toolkits for employers to provide access to a full range of tools that help employers facilitate managerial buy-in, reduce stigma, and create and implement SUD-friendly HR policies.

Lessons Learned

In discussing lessons learned, participants emphasized the importance of promoting success stories and connecting employers with an organization that actively understands addiction and the recovery to work model. In the Southern Tier 8 region of New York, meetings with employers always include a three-person team: the local chamber, the prevention agency, and the treatment agency. Participants emphasized the important role that chambers of commerce and local development districts play in engaging and educating employers, connecting them to successful regional recovery models, and providing them with training and toolkits. There was also discussion of a potential role for chambers in advocating for legislative initiatives that make it easier for employers to hire and retain individuals with SUD. Finally, a major takeaway of the call was that there are a lot of existing resources that regions can use “off the shelf”. The value of the learning community call is making connections and learning about best practices in each region – rarely does one region have all the pieces of the puzzle in place.