Addiction and Employment

Addiction and Employment: Getting Hired in Recovery

Table of Contents

Americans have a big issue regarding addiction and employment on their hands. There is a stigma that more than a million United States citizens face daily. Drug addicts are having a difficult time finding jobs.

According to the National Public Radio show, All Things Considered, “Of the 22 million adults in recovery in the United States; nine percent are unemployed – that’s more than double the overall rate.” The problem is that when drug addicts hit the roadblock of not finding a job, they go back to the drugs. It is a vicious Catch-22.

In 2017, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 19.7 million Americans (12 years and older) are fighting some kind of substance use disorder. Meanwhile, according to alcohol and drug abuse statistics, from the American Addiction Centers, employers lose more than $740 billion in workplace productivity, healthcare expenses, and crime-related costs. As a result, many businesses are reluctant to give individuals with addictions a chance.

Challenges of a Recovering Drug Addict

Tulvey was 50 when he decided to go to rehab. According to Nina Feldman, who wrote about Tulvey for an article on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Tulvey checked himself into a rehabilitation clinic. Once he completed rehabilitation, he moved to a recovery house. There was a problem; he was homesick. Therefore, he moved home to be with his wife.

Later, he realized he had left the recovery house too soon. When he returned home, he became friends with the bottle again. One night, he blacked out and threw a glass at the wall – only to hit his wife. That action led him to spend almost a month in jail.

Tulvey went to a drug addiction treatment center again. His boss promised to keep his job for him. Then, Tulvey worked as a warehouse manager for a construction company. As a part of probation, Tulvey had to use his breathalyzer at certain times to prove to law enforcement he was no longer drinking. The problem was the breathalyzer did not work all the time. That meant Tulvey had to take the train from his suburban home to Downtown Philadelphia and then another train to the station so that he could blow a negative breathalyzer.

The errand was too much. His boss said the time he spent going to do the breathalyzer test ate too much of his work productivity; the boss fired Tulvey. As a result, Tulvey faced the same situation as more than a million other Americans. 

Where are the Callbacks?

Before alcohol became a problem, Tulvey had no problem finding a job. He could post his resume on, and many businesses would contact him with job offers. At one time, Tulvey said he even owned his own business. However, this time when he put his resume on, no one called. Tulley gave up waiting for the phone to ring. Instead, he found a job in the recovery house where he worked. The recovery house staff knew Tulvey and trusted him.  Unfortunately, other businesses did not want to take that risk with Tulvey or other individuals with addictions. Some employers do not know how to handle an alcoholic employee or an employee with other drug addictions.

However, Tulvey and other Americans with addictions do not realize that they have rights. Those rights can be found in multiple national legislation, such as the Americans with Disability Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Fair Housing Act, and the Workforce Investment Act. 

Addiction and Employment

Rights for Recovering Drug Addicts

Under the ADA Act, employees, and job applicants, with drug addictions are protected from discrimination. This protection only applies to those who have either completed a supervised drug rehabilitation program or are participating in such a program. However, if an individual with drug addiction is still using, then an employer can either fire the employee or not hire the candidate. In addition, recovering addicts should know it is illegal for employees to ask potential employees, who are recovering drug addicts, whether they have completed a substance abuse program or have ever been addicted to drugs.

While this policy is in place, discrimination still occurs. When this happens, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can help by helping out in court. Matthew Kimball, a painter, who worked for Steel Painters LLC, based in Beaumont, Texas, got to see the EEOC in action when the painting company hired him and then fired him from the job at the company’s Silsbee location in Texas.

Kimball v. Steel Painters LLC.

Before getting hired, Kimball had gotten a shoulder and arm injury. The injury required surgery and intensive physical therapy. Kimball was in a lot of pain, and he had started taking prescribed opioids to help with the throbbing. It was not long before he became addicted to the pain pills. After realizing he had an addiction, Kimball started going to a drug addiction treatment center. Part of the treatment included Kimball taking methadone to help him withdraw from the opioid addiction.

Then, Kimball got hired. Steel Painters LLC policy asked for new employees to take a drug test. The test showed Kimball was positive for methadone, which he took every night after work. He supplied the testing laboratory with a copy of his prescription and other documentation lab staff needed for his treatment. Kimball thought his job was safe; he had been told he was cleared for work. However, he never did return. Instead, the company administrators fired him. Then, in 2018, the EEOC became involved. The lawsuit ended with the defendant agreeing to pay $25,000 to the plaintiff and making the needed policy changes to ensure such an incident never occurred again.

Community Resources

When recovering drug addicts start looking for a job, it can be frustrating and defeating. Yet, unlike the job scene of the 1990s, there are many more resources in place to help. America in Recovery is a national non-profit that provides information for businesses that have a history of hiring former drug addicts. Community Voicemail is another agency that provides individuals looking for housing and a job with a free phone number and voicemail, where future employers can leave messages – hopefully, to say a person is hired. Also, the National H.I.R.E. Network provides resources for recovering addicts who have criminal records, with resources to find employment.

The goal is to keep this trend growing and erase the stigma recovering addicts face. When recovering addicts see the support and encouragement, there is a greater chance they will keep away from the drug causing the addiction.

Coping With Discrimination

Returning to work after rehab is a difficult process independent of workplace discrimination you may face in the office. You are a successful and competent employee no matter what other people say to or about you, but that doesn’t mean insensitive questions or rude comments don’t sting. Before you retaliate, consider your options and devise a plan based on your core values so that you can execute the plan with confidence and control.

Returning to work after rehab is a difficult process independent of workplace discrimination you may face in the office. You are a successful and competent employee no matter what other people say to or about you, but that doesn’t mean insensitive questions or rude comments don’t sting. Before you retaliate, consider your options and devise a plan based on your core values so that you can execute the plan with confidence and control.

Challenges of Working Remotely for Addiction Recovery

With the current pandemic we are facing, you may believe that working at home will come with no challenges—you do not have to get all dressed up, worry about traffic getting to work, and can work from your bed if you want to. Unfortunately, you may also feel like you are able to do things at home you would not get away with in the office, like drinking alcohol or doing more work than you can normally handle. It is important to stay away from alcohol and learn to pace yourself while you are working at home in order to stay healthy during this pandemic.

The American Addiction Centers asked 3,000 people in the country if they were drinking while working at home during this pandemic. 32% said they were more likely to drink while working at home compared to if they were working anywhere else. 36% of men and women said they were drinking while working on the clock.

Many in the workforce are in recovery and this time of social distancing and self-imposed isolation can trigger a relapse. There are also many people who think they can get away with drinking alcohol while working at home because there are no supervisors around to see.

Help Your Employees Deal with Remote Work Stress

One of the signs of stress you may notice in your co-workers is if they are recently prone to making more mistakes and not turning in their work on time. The stress they are going through can make their work sloppy, inaccurate, or late under circumstances like these. Through Zoom, you might see your co-workers as distracted if they are zoning out or being forgetful. It can also manifest as things like forgetting to follow up or forgetting to put their signature in their email.

Another sign could be if your employee is exhibiting emotional, negative language. They may be thinking negatively about a project or tell you they will not get it done on time. They could be using words like “impossible” or “negative” a lot. This is called black-and-white thinking, when a person believes they either absolutely can or cannot do something. This type of thinking can lead to feelings of despair or hopelessness.

They could also be catastrophizing, which means when they are overwhelmed with too much work or a project is too hard to do, they may be viewing it as a life-and-death situation. They may believe this could be the end of their career, rather than accepting this as a challenge they can get through.

The Responsibility of Business Leaders

As a business leader, you may not have any control over this pandemic, but you can have control over your employees’ mental health. Not making any attempts towards mental health care has the potential to damage your reputation. It is first important to keep in mind that not all of your employees will be happy with this mandatory arrangement of working at home.

It is important that you make this adjustment as comfortable as possible for them. You also need to think about your own mental health if you are going to help other people. This means keeping up your routine as best as possible, exercising at least once a day, limiting your social media time, and doing things for others. Have a positive outlook and to not be afraid to share how you feel.


Speaking to all of your employees and checking in with them every week is the key to a successfully running business. Be the calm voice of reason and reassure your employees that everything will be fine. Always be kind to them, so they know they can turn to you for anything. Be prepared to answer any business-related questions like what is changing and what it means for that person. Assure them that no matter what happens, you and the company will do the best you can to help them.

If you’re interested in learning more about addiction treatment, call 833-844-4769 and contact a Silver Lining Recovery team member today.