Tips for welcoming coworkers back to the workplace after they’ve gone to rehab

In the workplace, drug usage is nothing new. In fact, according to a 2013 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) survey, out of the 22.4 million illegal drug consumers aged 18 and over, approximately 70% were working either full- or part-timeOpens in a new tab.. It may be difficult to bring back a co-worker who has taken a leave of absence for purposes of mental wellbeing or drug addiction recovery, and it is hard to know how to behave around them. 

Is it OK to inquire about it? Can I tell them that I hope that they feel better? Should I totally disregard it and behave as if they never left? Neither of these solutions seems like the best one. However, there are a few steps that you may take to appropriately welcome them back to work and make them feel accepted, needed, and appreciated.

Below are tips on how to welcome a co-worker who has been away due to addiction recovery.

1. Comprehend the experience of a co-worker

It may be challenging to get out of recovery and back into the usual work routine. Certainly, your co-worker may feel ashamed or embarrassed as it’s never easy to interact with people who know something negative about you. It’s, in fact, an act of bravery to go back to the same workplace after 60 days to monthsOpens in a new tab. of addiction recovery.

Your co-worker may choose to bring the issue out in the open from day one, depending on their attitude or your level of friendship, or they may decide to stay silent. As a good and supportive co-worker, be open to discussion, but let the conversations be determined by their behavior and attitude.

You can express your empathy by saying something like, “I don’t really know how to say it, but I want you to know that I’m here for you.” This will make them more comfortable, and they will know that if they ever want to chat, you’re around to listen in a no-pressure manner.

2. Know your job

Although your co-worker should be responsive and receptive, it is important to recognize that acting as their therapist, sponsor, or support group is not your role. Let them decide how your workplace relationship proceeds when your co-worker returnsOpens in a new tab. to the office.

3. Collaborate with others

If you’re in a managerial capacity, you may need to keep in touch with his or her recovery specialist or case manager to understand the wellbeing of the employee recovering from recovery. Return-to-work strategies are widely used to support workers get back to work, adapt, and settle. Further, daily substance testing, familiarizing oneself with a relapse reduction strategy, or engaging in aftercare programming could be part of the plan to help the affected co-worker.

4. Beware of workaholism

People can sometimes swap one addiction with another. The usage of drugs may turn into workaholism, and the co-worker can use their work to escape coping with painful emotions or circumstances of addiction recovery. Although you may admire their freshly discovered work ethic, encourage them to find time to attend meetings, partake in sober events, and spend time with friends and family. 

5. Don’t get into it yourself

You could feel that telling stories about your past experiences with drugs, including relapse and recovery struggles, might help you connect with your co-worker. It’s cynical and unhelpful to suggest stuff like, “I know you’ll be OK,” or “The same thing happened to my sister, and she turned out fine.” Your co-worker’s experience is uniquely intimate, and using a hackneyed response or the experience of someone else as a reference may make you seem out of contact. The easiest thing is to keep yourself out of the argument.

While the mental wellbeing and alcohol discourse has started to change, there is already a stigma. Although you should be concerned about how your colleague is doing, it is important to be mindful of their privacy.

When you or a co-worker are dealing with the usage or burnout of drugs in the workplace, support is accessible, and recovery is probable. 

6. Respect privacy

Some of your workmates may not know about the substance use disorder, especially if the problem did not manifest itself before the victim left to attend recovery programs. Your co-worker is under no obligation to discuss their personal experiences with you. They simply might feel nervous or embarrassed of other people knowing their problem, or they might see it as unnecessary, bringing their personal experiences to the workplace. Always let them know you’re excited to have them back. Rather than gossiping about them, support them and show them you respect them, and you’re always available to listen to them. If the information is or is not in the public domain, avoid forcing conversations about addiction treatment or pestering the victim with numerous questions about it. If they are comfortable sharing it, they will always do so.

7. No pressure

Addiction recovery is a process that requires patienceOpens in a new tab.. Therefore, do not anticipate someone with a substance use disorder returning to work like nothing ever happened. Since their old normal involved drugs or alcohol, they might come back with a changed personality. Respect the journey they are in and offer the necessary support to self-rediscovery. You might have been used to seeing them perhaps under the influence but now totally sober. If you notice any change in them, it is likely for the better. So, don’t pressure them about their past personalities or behaviors or expect them to handle things the same way they did before attending addiction treatment. 

8. Do not cover for them

Due to the effects of drug use, addiction, and recovery, some recovering addicts might struggle to keep up with the work standards. Although you may be tempted to cover for them and help them in completing certain tasks at work, it does not help in the long run. This is not fair to both of you as completing extra tasks may interfere with your work standard as well. Let the quality of their work stand out and let them work towards getting back to normality.

9. Welcome them back into the fold

Your core mandate to your co-worker is to make them feel they are an essential part of your team again. Include them in normal office talks and never let them feel left out in conversations as this may contribute to workplace stress. Engaging them will play a big role in helping them readapt to the workplace environment. 

10. Have a return-to-work plan for employees who go to rehab

When addiction treatment is over, the person in recovery may feel like new, with new attitudes, realities, and behaviors. They must face the same responsibilities, stress, conflicts, and deadlines as those they used to face before they left to attend addiction recovery. Adjusting to this kind of life for a person who has just come from rehab can be tough. As a way to cope with the new reality, they must undergo some job-related accommodation. They must learn new job routines. If they had a strenuous work relationship with their colleagues during the active addiction period, amendments must be done through proper intervention. 

Additionally, a staff member who has just come from treatment ought not to be expected to deliver the best. Instead, a Return to Work (RTW) formula should be put in place to maximize the staff’s success. As with other disabilities, the employer is entitled to special information about the status of the employee that needs to be accommodated in the workplace. Such information may include:

  • Functional limitations and restrictions that may be considered permanent
  • A detailed medical report that contains the status of the employee and specific functional limitations 
  • A recovery prognosis showing the extent to which the recovery is expected and the timelines involved
  • A confirmation from the rehabilitation center that the employee is following a prescribed rehabilitation plan and medical side effects could affect the employee’s capabilities of performing his or her duties at work

Suppose the employer is not provided with this information, they have the right to deny the employee any benefits, deny any accommodation requests or even hold the employee out of work without any payment until the information is provided. Continuous refusal to cooperate in providing the necessary medical documentation can lead to the termination of the employment contract without liability to the employer.

Besides that, employees who cooperate should be taken through a smooth return to work program to support them as they try to adapt to their duties and responsibilities. A properly structured Return to Work Formula is cooperatively developed by the employees, the employer, and the addiction recovery care provider. This may include an addiction counselor, a psychotherapist, or a physician. The plan should include the following elements:

Tasks substitution: In cases where employees fresh from rehab may not manage to perform on some tasks, they may ask to be allocated new tasks they can comfortably manage. They should always ensure they take part in making such decisions.

Job description: These are not the standard contract clauses put out by human resources whenever a new employee joins the organization. Instead, this is a structured list of tasks that employees from rehab will be expected to do at a ramped-up schedule with quantifiable milestones and goals for the individual. 

Workplace accommodation: In cases where the addiction left the employee disabled, workplace accommodation must be established, for example, a walker, a wheelchair, and/or any other special equipment. 

Job accommodation: This is drawn from the job description. The tasks to be done by the employee are evaluated and determined if they can be performed or something must be done for them to be executed correctly. As an example, employees with chronic conditions may need to have their workstations — including computers and chairs adjusted.

The relapse prevention planOpens in a new tab. might be another thing to aid recovering employees in not going back to using drugs. This includes things such as company social events, business trips, sales dinners, and conferences. While sharing the relapse plan with the employer might not be a requirement, it might build upon the experience of returning to work.

11. Facilitating support and meeting services

It is the employer and the employee’s responsibility to have regular communication about the post-rehabilitation process. The employer expects a set of milestones, plans, and dates. This is important for accountability, progress monitoring, and safeguarding the signs of relapse.

12. Avoid discriminatory conduct

Employers and their employees should always comply with general laws on the discriminatory conduct on workers returning to work to avoid treating recovering co-workers unfairly or discriminatorily, such as looking down upon them or unfairly dismissing them. The employers must ensure they have a good understanding of their obligations and relevant laws.

Educating the employee on the return-to-work program

Just facilitating a return-to-work program for the employee is not always enough. The employer has the responsibility of training and educating the employee on workplace assistance. This is to help them understand what is entitled to them when it comes to such circumstances. The training and education may include symptoms and causes of addiction and what is required and available for them in the journey to recovery and coming back to the workplace. 

While the employee may have gone through the due diligence of being part of the return-to-work strategy, he or she might assume everything will work well and feel like checking up on it is not necessary. This can fail since most of the things in the return to work formula keep changing as time goes by. Employee limitations and restrictions because of their cognitive, mental, or physical impairments can be temporary or permanent. If they are progressive, the workplace and job accommodations put in place must be extended with time, or they will come to an end. In addition to that, the job description and circumstances around the home of the employee could also change. 

Factors to keep in mind when welcoming a co-worker from rehab

If not properly and collaboratively arranged, a return-to-work policy may cause problems to both the employer and the employee. Below are some of the key points consider when implementing such a program:

Without proper understanding and awareness of the various occupational health issues, developing a working phased return-to-work plan for employees can be challengingOpens in a new tab.. It’s essential to understand the various clauses and agreements signed by all parties.

Slow recovery for the affected employee impedes a smooth transition into the work process.

If a phased return-to-work protocol is not managed properly, the employee might feel pushed to sign and agree to plans that they do not think are realistic.

A properly structured return-to-work plan reduces the chances of the employee not returning at all. This saves the employer time, resources, and efforts involved in recruiting and training new employees.

Making your employees feel valued by nurturing them increases the chances of employee retention and minimizes the cost of hiring.

Studies indicate that an employee’s successful return-to-work after rehab is greatly dependent on the line manager’s attitudes and actions. The roles played by line managers in the road to a successful return to work process include:

Staying flexible, positive, and understanding

Keeping regular and constant communication with employees while they might be away from work to keep them up to date on the various events at the workplace.

Meeting and discussing with the employees who have been away from work on how they can be accommodated back to work through a well-formulated program. The program should have various duties to be performed by the employees and some sort of transition plan.

Being flexible with regards to adapting swiftly, working hours, and duties in case the recovery process turns out to be unexpectedly slower.

Roles of the employer in the return-to-work process

Under the law, employers have different obligations in ensuring they facilitate a safe and smooth return of their employees who have been away for various special reasons. Some of the major obligations include keeping constant communication and offering support. This should be shown throughout the return-to-work accommodation processes. Other key obligations of the employer include:

Offering the employees all the appropriate information about returning to work. The information must contain all the benefits they are entitled to and what is expected of them. The information should always be accessible to them.

Communicating with the other employees about the return-to-work plan and how they can offer their support.

• Making any necessary changes in the workplace to allow the worker to come in and workOpens in a new tab. smoothly.

The employer should appoint a return-to-work coordinator to oversee the process. The coordinator must work in close collaboration with all the involved parties. 

The roles of the rehabilitation and return-to-work coordinator include:

  • Structuring and developing the employees’ duties and work plans
  • Seeks your permission through the signing of the authorization plan so that he or she can contact your doctor with regards to return to work so that he can prepare a suitable duties plan
  • Informs line managers and other relevant authorities of your progress
  • He or she is your contact person and work cover throughout the rehabilitation process
  • Keeps all rehabilitation documents and details current and confidential

Obligations of the employee in the return-to-work program

  • Inform their employers as soon as they are out of rehabilitation and ready to be accommodated to work
  • Authorize their nominated personal doctor to provide relevant information to the employer before the return-to-work process starts
  • Collaboratively and actively take part in developing a duties plan with his or her return-to-work coordinator
  • Perform all the actionable plans required of them by both the employer and treatment managers
  • Make an effort to recover – or stick with the recovery plan – while at work

In summary, it is important to note that recovery from addiction and returning to work is not all about stopping the use of drugs. Instead, it is staying connected to your support system, having humility, and learning to listen. The workplace environment offers an additional channel for people in recovery to express their encounters and obtain the necessary support. Colleagues play a very critical role in being a source of support and strength to recovering employees. For this reason, both the management and co-workers should recognize this role in order to keep the workplace environment supportive rather than destructive.

Author Bio: Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoys writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. 

Sources – Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings – Working through workplace stigma: Coming back after an addiction – 60 Day Rehab Programs for Drug and Alcohol Abuse – What are the treatments for addiction? – Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction: Treatment and Recovery – How to Accommodate Workers with Addiction and Mental Health Conditions – Workplace Supported Recovery – Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery – Addiction and Cognition – Mental health and work: Impact, issues, and good practices – What’s a return to work coordinator? – How to welcome back a colleague who is in recovery

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