Recovery-Friendly Workplaces: Removing Stigma

In this tight labor market, many employers are finding it hard to find workers. A recent event offered some solutions that might not be top of mind: expanding employment offerings for people in recovery, people who are formerly incarcerated, and people who are neurodivergent.
Convened at Greenfield Community College by the Opioid Task Force, the gathering—Building Recovery-Friendly Workplaces in Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region—brought together experts in the field for a discussion on how to remove stigma about addiction and contact with the justice system, and provided resources for employers.
Mickey Wiles, CEO and Founder of Working Fields, a Vermont-based staffing agency that purchased Greenfield’s Harmon Personnel earlier this year, spoke from his experience having served time in federal prison and becoming sober. Having a recovery-friendly workplace means “providing education about a stigma-free environment,” he said. “It’s a cultural change, not an accommodation. We want to integrate people, not think of it as special treatment.” The Franklin County CDC hires temporary workers from Working Fields.
According to Mickey, a staggering 22 million people have substance use disorder, one in three people have some kind of conviction in their past, and 95% of employers do background checks. This can sideline workers who have a lot to contribute. Working Fields offers peer-coaching for their temporary workers to give them someone to lean on, if they need it. He noted that employment prevents relapse into substance use and recidivism.
In 2015, speaker Craig White, founder of Hillside Pizza, initiated a program to hire people with autism. Craig talked about being sober for 35 years and giving people an avenue to reach their full potential. Hillside Pizza got its start in the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center (WMFPC) at the Franklin County CDC, and we are proud of the success Craig has accomplished and the difference his company makes in people’s lives.
The key takeaway from the event was that in order to create workplaces that reflect the reality that many people struggle with substance use and abuse, and many in our community have had contact with the criminal justice system, these subjects must be talked about openly and without shame. Employers can lead on this issue by offering employee assistance programs for addiction and for people in recovery and by changing hiring practices so that a past conviction is not a deal-breaker.
The Franklin County CDC was one of many area organizations offering resources. Through the WMFPC, we provide entrepreneurial education to those inside local jails, and offer job opportunities to that population once they have finished serving time.
Thanks to the Opioid Task Force for organizing this event, and to GCC for hosting!