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What You Can Do to Create an Inclusive Workplace for Employees in Long-Term Recovery

The past year saw many companies making advances toward more diverse and inclusive workplaces. Despite the progress, one group of workers still faces significant challenges because of too little support and too much stigma–workers in long-term recovery from substance use disorders (SUDs).

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) classifies addiction as a disability. But even though ADA legally protects workers from discrimination based on disability, it falls short of supporting workers in long-term recovery for two reasons. The first is the stigma that surrounds SUDs and the second is the lack of awareness.

There are 25 million people in recovery from substance problems in the United States, and it’s likely that some of them work for you. Quite possibly, you don’t know who they are, because they don’t talk about it. They’ve worked hard to conquer a serious mental health problem, and they fear that stigma will get them fired or passed over for promotion. That’s because too many people don’t understand that SUDs do not reflect a lack of discipline or human weakness, but instead are mental health problems.

In order to create a truly inclusive workplace, companies must do more to support and embrace employees in long-term recovery. Here are five ways to do that:

1. Ask senior leadership to share their recovery status.

One of the most effective ways to impact company culture is for senior executives to lead the way. If managers in long-term recovery are willing to open up about their recovery journeys and status, let them. They can share at a staff meeting, or even include their status in their internal bios–signaling to others that recovery is far from shunned in the workplace. Rather, it’s celebrated.

As the chief people officer for Lionrock Recovery, I often introduce myself by saying, “I’m a person in long-term recovery. I give you this piece of information because I want you to know that there are people in long-term recovery who struggle with substance use disorders who don’t look and sound the way you think they do.”

2. Create workplace traditions that people who abstain from drinking can participate in.

Consider how prevalent alcohol is in our workplace culture–from cocktail networking events to team building events to corporate holiday parties. Alcohol consumption often plays a primary role in how we celebrate company success and build relationships with co-workers.

Aim to create events that emphasize activities other than drinking. Add some structured activities, like golfing or bowling. Serve nonalcoholic drinks that allow colleagues in recovery to blend in with everyone else. Don’t tolerate a culture that insists on drinking to fit in.

3. Create and promote self-care programs.

Self-care is an important part of recovery. Just as companies promote work-life balance, so too should they promote self-care. Offer gym subsidies, meditation groups, and walking clubs. Check-in with employees to see if and how they are caring for themselves. Make sure your employees feel encouraged to ask for accommodations that support their disabilities–whatever they may be.

4. Create a recovery-focused employee resource group (ERG).

Companies have ERGs for so many affinity groups, including working parents, BIPOC workers, etc. Why not offer one for long-term recovery? ERGs help educate and support employees and lead to higher retention rates–and they are relatively easy to start and maintain.

5. Provide resources for employees in long-term recovery.

Create and share a database of support services for people in long-term recovery. Include educational materials for all employees that educate and reduce stigma and misinformation. Consider hiring a keynote speaker in recovery for company events.

True inclusion means including and supporting diversity of all types–those you can see and those you cannot–and long-term recovery must be a part of a comprehensive inclusion program.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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