“A recovery-to-work ecosystem cannot succeed without the active engagement of the employer community. Employment is not only an outcome of recovery, but it is also a contributor to long-term, successful recovery. In Appalachia, the issue of engaging employers in recovery-to-work hiring takes on added importance due to critical workforce shortages throughout the region.” Addressing Appalachia’s Substance Use Disorder Crisis Through Recovery-to-Work 

Making Matches: Preparing People and Companies for Recovery-Friendly Careers

Engaging Employers and Workers to Build Careers

Now that you have a champions team to help guide your local ecosystem of partners working together to support recovery-to-work efforts, it’s time to better understand both (1) the population of people in recovery who are looking for jobs and (2) the skills needs of employers in the region. Your team of ecosystem partners can work together to identify the people who need jobs and help match them with companies that have jobs to fill.  

Before making a match, there will likely be steps and connections that you can help with as an ecosystem builder. People in recovery may need targeted training, including both technical and soft skills. Conversely, employers may need questions answered, connections to specific resources, and they may need to make changes to human resources policies or to provide additional peer support.  

A discussion with companies about hiring people in recovery will lead to ideas about how business leaders can better support their workers who either are impacted by active substance use or are in recovery from substance use disorder. 

Preparing people in recovery for careers as well as encouraging employers to hire and support people in recovery are not sequential or linear activities. They are simultaneous and iterative. Efforts start with identifying people in recovery who are ready to work and understanding both their skills and training needs. The goal is to prepare them for work while also identifying companies willing and able to hire people in recovery.  


After completing phase 3, you should have the following outcomes:

  A better understanding of how to connect with people in recovery who are ready to work and what training they need to be successful in the jobs available in your region; 

  A targeted list of employers in the region that have recovery-friendly job openings to engage in recovery to work efforts; 

  A collaborative outreach plan and materials for recruiting companies to hire people in recovery;  

  A better understanding of and access to information and resources that will help companies hire and support people in recovery. 

After completing Phase 3, it should be easier for companies in your region to understand the importance of hiring and supporting people in recovery and to know where to start. 


Connect People in Recovery with Targeted Training  

If you’ve followed the steps in Phase 1 (Defining Community Recovery) and Phase 2 (Getting Organized as Recovery Champions) of the Recovery to Work Ecosystem Builders Guide, you’ve likely already identified and connected with the recovery centers, programs, and courts that can identify people who are at a stage in their recovery in which they are work-ready. The next step is to collaborate with those same recovery-support partners to assess the existing technical and non-technical skills of the people being served and who are work- or training-ready.   

  Resource: Overview of State Recovery-to-Work Initiatives and Resources 

The more critical first question to address: what jobs are these workers in recovery ready for? There may be different types of employment that make sense depending on their phase of recovery.  For some, short-term or transitional work opportunities may make sense as a core element of their initial recovery process.  For others, they may be ready for careers that help them sustain fulfilling lives and careers to help support their recovery journey and offer hope. The types of employment reflect not only each individual’s recovery progress, but also their capabilities, interests, and skills in the context of a competitive job market. 

Resource: Use tools like CareerOneStop’s Interest AssessmentSkills Matcher, or Work Values Matcher to help the people you’re serving navigate potential careers. The Career One Stop site also includes tools for finding local training and apprenticeship programs. Other career navigation tools include My Next Move and the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook.

 Resource: Use MIT’s living wage calculator to estimate the local wage rate that a full-time worker needs to cover the costs of their family’s basic needs in your region.

As you learn more about the employers in your region and the positions they need filled, connect people in recovery with any additional training they need to be successful in the jobs for which they are most suited both in terms of their recovery journey as well as their personal passions and capabilities. These training sessions may focus on either soft and life skills or technical skills directly related to potential job opportunities. You can partner with your training providers to help them update or create programs that are responsive to both industry needs and the unique issues facing individuals being served who are in recovery. 

  Case Study: Hope Building in Southeastern Kentucky provides recovery-friendly, on-the-job training in the construction industry.


Build a Targeted List of Employers

With help from local employer champions and business-facing organizations, you can start to build a list of employers for initial outreach. As you create this list, consider defining and prioritizing what “quality job” and “recovery friendly employers” mean for your region. For example, as you define what sets people up for successful careers, consider industries and occupations that offer a living wage, transferable skills, and a recovery-friendly workplace culture. Creating a target list of employers will likely include both quantitative and qualitative work, and the list should be a regular discussion point between recovery-to-work partners.  

  Resource: What Matters in a Recovery Friendly Employer and Job

  Resource: One starting point for creating a list of employers is using job posting data to identify the companies that are hiring in your area. Some states provide access to this data through their Labor Market Information offices. For example, Pennsylvania’s Workstats hosts an Online Job Postings dataset that aggregates online job postings by county and workforce development area by several different categories, including industries, occupations, skills, and certifications. Another starting point for creating a list of local employers is CareerOneStop’s Business Finder.

In addition to using data to identify industries and companies that may be recovery-friendly, it’s important to tap into your network to help identify businesses that might be added to your targeted outreach list. Depending on your region, this could include chambers of commerce, local and regional economic development organizations, community-based organizations, and local workforce development boards. 

  Resource: Use this example of a letter to chambers of commerce in Connecticut as a starting point for outreach to business-facing organizations in your region to partner on employer engagement. Be clear about why the issue is important and what your specific ask of businesses is (ie, sharing a toolkit, participating in a survey, attending a business roundtable on the topic).


Work with Employers to Hire People in Recovery

Once you’ve developed a targeted list of employers, work with your partners to encourage companies to hire people in recovery. Develop a shared message that clearly communicates the opportunity to hire people in recovery, the support you can provide as an ecosystem partner, and the resources available as a starting point.   

  Resource: Consider mobilizing employer champions to help with outreach to a larger group of companies in your region. This letter from Phillis Engelbert, co-owner of The Lunch Room Restaurant & Bar and The Lunch Room Bakery & Cafe in Ann Arbor, makes the case for hiring people in recovery “from one employer to another”. 

  Resource: Inform employers in your network using this Recovery-Ready Workplace Toolkit from the Federal Recovery Ready Workplace Interagency Workgroup.

Business-facing partners can raise awareness among employers at regular events and by including recovery-to-work collateral materials (brochures, one pagers, FAQs) in their regular communication with businesses.  

  Community Spotlight: A group of partners in southeast Ohio, led by the Ohio Mid-Eastern Governments Association and Coleman Health Services, developed a fact sheet for employers about hiring people in recovery that business-facing organizations provide in standard meetings with businesses, such as business retention and expansion visits.

  Community Spotlight: A region in southeastern Ohio has successfully engaged businesses through recovery to work business roundtables. Click here to see a roundtable hosted by the Ohio Mid-Eastern Governments Association and Coleman Health Services.

You can also consider using surveys to better understand employers’ willingness (or reluctance) in hiring people in recovery and the obstacles to convincing firms to make those hiring decisions. Surveys could also be a tool to help employers articulate and communicate their concerns in hiring or retaining individuals in recovery. 

  Community Spotlight: The Northwest North Carolina Opioid/Substance Use Collaborative’s employer engagement approach is driven by their implementation of the Recovery Friendly Workplace (RFW) program, which is an employer-based effort that enables employees with substance use disorder (SUD) to stay employed during their recovery. The Collaborative conducted a region-wide survey to gather data from employers to enhance their efforts to bring the RFW initiative to more communities. The full survey and results can be found here.

Early adopting employers can serve as champions and can be an effective voice in outreach efforts. There is no more powerful advocate for hiring people in recovery than a business leader with a positive experience. These champions offer legitimacy to peer employers in the community when making the case for hiring individuals with SUD. Communities can work through existing networks to provide opportunities for identified champions to interact with their peers and share relevant experiences. Creating videos or facilitating employer conversations (e.g., through Industry Summits) can help. You can highlight champions through various channels (peer events or other information sharing, etc.) to demonstrate the value and process to prospective recovery friendly employers.


Connect Employers to Targeted Resources and Programs

Providing information, resources, and best practice guidance can help employers develop policies that both reduce potential risks and increase job retention for people in recovery. Regional leaders can take proactive steps to help businesses understand the role that a supportive workplace can play on the road to recovery. As an ecosystem builder, you can help employers navigate and access the right resources, programs, and tools to support employees in recovery, whether they are newly hired or already working in the company. Many states have developed their own toolkits to help employers navigate resources. These are useful starting points for ecosystem builders to understand state-specific resources and programs.  Revisit the list of state recovery-to-work resources to see whether your state has already built a toolkit.

  Resource: If your state does not have a toolkit, and you are looking for a comprehensive guide that you can share with employers, consider directing them to the National Safety Council’s Opioids at Work Employer Toolkit, Second Chance Business Toolkit, Boston Medical Center’s Grayken Center Employment Resource Library, or the US Department of Labor’s Recovery-Ready Workplace Resource Hub.

Based on an analysis of more than 15 national and state-level toolkits and employer resources, here are some shortcuts based on the most common questions companies ask about hiring people in recovery:


Employer FAQs about Hiring and Supporting People in Recovery 

Hiring and Recovery Friendly Culture 

Is my company a good fit for hiring people in recovery?

Becoming a recovery-friendly workplace is not just driven by civic or community spirit, it can also make good business sense. Worker shortages, absenteeism, and decreased productivity result from substance abuse. These negative impacts on business are well documented. But research shows that employees who are in recovery have comparable or even lower healthcare costs, absenteeism, and job turnover rates compared to employees who never report a substance use disorder.  

  Community Spotlight: Get inspired by company success stories like Hope Served FreshBellisio Foods, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

  Resource: Implications of Drug Use for Employers (National Safety Council) 

  Resource: Substance Use Prevention: It’s Good for Business! (Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Business Partnership) 

How can I create an inclusive environment and address stigma at my company?

Negative perceptions about substance use disorder, often called stigma, make it more difficult to build empathy and broad buy-in from employers. This stigma reflects misunderstandings and a lack of information about the science of addiction. Even when company leadership is championing recovery-friendly hiring and practices, it is important to address potential stigma among other employees in company’s workforce. 

The national nonprofit Shatterproof offers businesses a self-paced web-based tool, Just Five, that increases awareness and reduces stigma among employees. 

  Resource: Shatterproof Addiction Language Guide 

  Resource: Stigma of Substance Use Recovery in the Workplace (National Drug Free Workplace Alliance)  

  Resource: StigmaFreeWV Overview of Addressing Stigma of Substance Use Disorders 

  Resource: Words Matter Sample CEO Letter (Boston Medical Center) 

  Resource: Naloxone General Information and Training Material 

  Resource: National Safety Council Overview of Building a Recovery-Friendly Workplace 

For more information on combating stigma, refer to Phase 5.

Risk Assessment and Mitigation 

How can I assess the risk of hiring someone in recovery?

The risks involved with hiring someone affected by SUD include risk of relapse which could increase health care costs, increase absenteeism, reduce productivity, as well as create safety concerns for other employees. These risks are real, and it is important to acknowledge them. The National Safety Council’s Substance Use Employer Calculator is one tool that can help employers understand the real cost of substance use to their business. 

  Resource: Substance Use Cost Calculator for Employers  

  Resource: Substance Use: Prevention, Screening Tools and Workplace Policies

Risk aversion in hiring can also be driven by liability and insurance concerns. If employers hire someone with SUD who exhibits low productivity or causes problems on the job, it could be viewed as negligent hiring and can potentially have severe impacts on workers around the affected employee, increasing resentment and impact other employees’ productivity. Company health insurance policies may not provide confidential employee assistance programs or treatment supports. Regions may want to provide technical advice to small employers on risk mitigation strategies including potential liability and insurance requirements for hiring workers with a history of SUD. 

  Resource: Legal and regulatory considerations (National Safety Council) 

  Resource:  Second Chance Business Coalition’s Employer Guide to Legal Considerations in Second Chance Employment

  Resource: The Impact of Opioids in the Workplace: It’s NOT business as usual (Video, Ohio Chamber of Commerce) 

  Resource: Legally-Sound Drug-Free Workplace Program: What am I allowed (or not allowed) to do? (Video, Ohio Chamber of Commerce) 

How can I lower the risk of hiring someone in recovery? What are specific steps I can take to reduce risk?

The US Department of Labor provides companies with up to $5,000 worth of fidelity bonding that is designed to reimburse employers for any loss due to employee theft of money or property. It can be accessed for a select group of employees, including those with SUD, through the state and local workforce system. 

  Resource: The Federal Bonding Program 

State or local governments may offer incentives to employers for hiring people in recovery.  

  Community Spotlight: New York State’s Recovery Friendly Workplace Tax Credit incentivizes employers to hire workers with SUD to reduce the perceived risk associated with addiction. Eligible employers can apply to receive up to $2,000 of tax credit per eligible employee. 

Some companies have developed their own tools for assessing and lowering the risk of hiring people in recovery.

Community Spotlight: Solid Comfort, a hotel furniture maker in Fargo, North Dakota estimates that 75 percent of their production line employees are either in recovery from substance or mental health issues or are formerly incarcerated. They’ve developed a “risk rubric”, which is an Excel document that includes felonies, misdemeanors, type, and when they occurred. After an applicant’s information has been entered, the rubric identifies the candidate with a color: green, yellow, or red, which corresponds to increasing levels of hiring risk. A candidate with a yellow score will be brought in for an interview and Solid Comfort will often follow up with probation officers for more background. The rubric has made their hiring decisions more objective and decreased the amount of time they spend discussing each candidate.


Management and Internal Policies 

Who from my management team needs to be engaged? What steps does my team need to take to be prepared to have conversations around substance use, addiction, and the need for leave or treatment?

Senior leaders in your company (representing human resources, legal, safety professionals, or marketing and communications) should be champions for recovery to work, providing internal advice on how to best implement updated policies and procedures, and communicating with staff about addressing stigma and accessing resources to support recovery. (For more information on combating stigma, refer to Phase 5.)

  Resource: Senior level commitment and CEO letter (Boston Medical Center) 

  Resource: Company survey and response plan (Boston Medical Center) 

  Resource: Cross-functional advisory teams (Boston Medical Center) 

  Resource: FAQ Asked by Managers (Boston Medical Center) 

  Resource: Sample Scenarios and Manager Tip Sheet and Sample Scenarios and Employee Tip Sheet (Boston Medical Center) 

  Resource: SAMHSA’s Guidelines for Supervisors  

  Resource: Communicating with Employees about Opioids (National Safety Council) 

  Resource: Sample Employee Engagement Survey (National Safety Council) 


What changes should I make to human resources practices and policies?

Existing human resource practices may pose barriers to hiring workers with substance use disorder. This includes practices for screening candidates in the hiring process and flexibility on the job for counseling and other treatment services. 

  Resource: Fair Chance Employment Self-Assessment – a ten question self-assessment to help companies determine the state of recruiting, HR, and employment practices 

  Resource: Developing Policies and Practices Checklist (Boston Medical Center) 

  Resource: The Why, When & How of Workplace Drug Testing (Ohio Chamber of Commerce video) 

  Resource: Crafting a Policy That’s Right for Your Business Operations and Culture (Ohio Chamber of Commerce video) 

  Resource: Review mental health and substance use benefits coverage (Boston Medical Center) 

  Resource: Sample Benefits Coverage Questionnaire (Boston Medical Center) 

  Resource: Navigating Benefits and Healthcare Data (National Safety Council) 

  Resource: Sample Policy (National Safety Council) 


Supporting Employees and Encouraging Retention  

How can my business help an employee in recovery succeed in the workplace?

Once someone in recovery is hired, it is important to consider what supports will help them succeed in the workplace and remain employed. Some regions and companies have improved employee retention by providing workers with access to confidential employee assistance programs, peer recovery specialists, and success coaches. 

Community Spotlight: 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 Southern Ohio Employer Resource Network employs success coaches to provide services at workplaces throughout the work week. These coaches’ time can be purchased by employers (at a highly subsidized rate through this program) for a site visit and consultation services. The recovery coaches can connect resources to clients to help people stay on the job without needing to take time off work to address their treatment or other life-related barriers. 

  Resource: SAMHSA’s Working Definition of Recovery and 10 Guiding Principles of Recovery 

  Resource: Employee Assistance Programs and the Opioid Crisis (National Safety Council) 

  Resource: Building a Healthy & Productive Workforce by Supporting Employees in Recovery and Employees-Navigating My Recovery at Work (Ohio Chamber of Commerce) 

  Resource: Sample Employee Resource Guide (Boston Medical Center) 

  Resource: Employee survey (Boston Medical Center) 

How do I work with local service providers to connect staff with treatment, training, and other support services (housing, transportation, childcare)? Where do I go to get support?

  Community spotlight/ case study: Job Training focus – Jobs and Hope West Virginia is focused on addressing the needs and risks before people in recovery are hired. Transition agents work with individuals in recovery to assess their needs – housing, transportation, skills. They serve as a care coordinator, identifying the needs of the individual and connecting them with services provided across West Virginia’s state agencies. The program connects people to training and to the wraparound services they need to be successful.

For someone in recovery, remaining successfully employed may depend on accessing wraparound supports like affordable housing, reliable transportation, ongoing treatment, and childcare. Programs to meet some or all of these needs likely exist in your community and can be accessed by connecting with one of the organizations in a recovery to work ecosystem. Working with service providers is a complicated process- for that reason, we have devoted Phase 4 to this question. Check out Phase 4 for more information.