Should You Hire Someone in Recovery?


As an employer, making the most reliable match between a prospective employee and your company is important. Time, energy, and resources are poured into new employees in terms of equipment and training, so ensuring that the job seeker who says “yes” has a bright future is imperative.

Making these choices when faced with a potential hire in recovery can raise a red flag, but the applicant shouldn’t be outright discounted. Individuals in recovery can bring positive outlooks and principles not necessarily shouldered by those who have never faced the darkness of addiction. Here, we’ll explore some of the pros and cons of hiring those trying to pick up the pieces after a period of addiction.

The Pros of Hiring Someone in Recovery

Although hiring someone who has battled addiction may seem like a risky move, the majority of those in recovery — especially those taking part in 12-step programs — are already on the path to becoming good employees. Many of those in recovery will want to get back into the working world badly, because it allows for a sense of routine and normalcy. They’ll be highly motivated to work hard to achieve a new sense of balance in their lives.

Additionally, recovering addicts are likely to be extremely thankful and loyal to those who give them second chances. Many in recovery may have lost friends, family, stability, and financial safety because of their addiction. Allowing them a chance to gain those parts of their lives back with a new opportunity is likely to encourage a dependable relationship.

You may also see these employees are unlikely to take sick days. According to Dr. David Sack, “Because most people in recovery take an abstinence-based approach, these employees won’t be partying on weeknights or binge-drinking on the weekend, which may mean greater productivity at work and fewer ‘sick’ days spent nursing a hangover or other problem. If the individual has worked the 12 Steps or a similar program, they’ve embraced principles like honesty, humility and integrity, which serve them well both personally and professionally. Those who have completed a treatment program also have learned the importance of self-care, which often translates into increased productivity and focus at work.”

There’s even proof that hiring those in recovery can be good for business. Larry Keast, founder and CEO of Houston manufacturing company Venturetech, began hiring those in recovery and actually saw an improvement in employee morale, better production, and noticed a falling turnover rate and smaller training costs. Hiring “unemployables” was so beneficial to Keast that he began the website America in Recovery, which matches employers and potential employees in recovery programs.

The Cons of Hiring Someone in Recovery

According to a report from the U.K. Drug Policy Commission, two out of three employers said they would not hire a former crack cocaine or heroin abuser even if they were qualified for the position. Additionally, 48% of those surveyed said that hiring would depend on “the type and/or level of past drug use.”

Hiring someone in recovery comes with certain risks — as do all new hires. You may be required to allow new hires time in recovery, time for meetings, or time to adjust to their new routine. You may also need to determine whether or not you need to train co-workers and other employees to recognize signs of relapse and addiction without outing your new hire.

Finally, if you don’t already, you may need to conduct random drug testing and regular performance reviews for all employees. None of these are necessarily bad things, but cost time and money.

There is also the risk of relapse. Spending time and money training a new employee only to have it turn out to be a poor investment is a blow to any business.  

The Legal Ramifications of Hiring Someone in Recovery

There are protections for those in recovery, which you ought to be familiar with as an employer. Federal civil rights laws prohibit discrimination against “individuals with disabilities,” which is classified as someone who has a current physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of that person’s life activities such as caring for themselves, working, etc. and “has a record of such a substantially limiting impairment or is regarded as having such an impairment.”

Those in recovery often fall under the category of those who are disabled because their addiction has limited their ability to take part in major life activities.

Those battling alcohol or drug addiction who are in recovery are protected by several federal laws, including:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act
  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • The Fair Housing Act
  • The Workforce Investment Act

It should be noted, however, that the law does not protect those who currently engage in the use of illegal drugs. The law can be confusing at times, so it’s best for any employer debating hiring a recovering addict to familiarize him or herself with the federal protections and laws.

Giving someone in recovery a second chance can be risky for any business. It can also be extremely rewarding. By weighing the pros and cons of hiring someone in recovery, employers can determine whether or not they’re ready to take this leap of faith. If you do decide to hire a recovering addict, you may gain an extremely devoted, loyal and motivated employee.

Robert Yagoda is Executive Director of Beach House Center for Recovery where he brings more than 10 years of combined clinical and administrative experience in facility-delivered, drug and dual diagnosis treatment. Robert is a licensed mental health counselor and certified addictions professional.


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