September is National Recovery Month, and I’m pleased to join my colleagues across the Labor Department in celebrating it—and supporting the millions of working families impacted by substance use disorders, every month.
Central to the Recovery Month message is that substance use disorders are treatable, and people in recovery can and do live healthy, productive lives. Indeed, for many people in recovery, employment plays an important role in continued sobriety.
In this spirit, those of us in the Office of Disability Employment Policy are committed to ensuring people with substance use disorders have access to the services and supports they need to succeed, including when it comes to preparing for and obtaining employment.
To start, it’s important for both workers and employers to know that people with alcoholism or in recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and thus entitled to accommodations to help them stay at work or return to the workforce once ready if they take time off for treatment. The ODEP-funded Job Accommodation Network offers a range of resources to help employers and employees understand when the ADA applies and learn about common accommodations that can support people with alcoholism or drug addiction.
ODEP also supports workers with substance use disorders through our broader efforts around workplace mental health, which center on a framework we call the “4 A’s of a Mental Health-Friendly Workplace.” In addition to providing accommodations, these “4 A’s” include building awareness, providing employee assistance and ensuring access to treatment.
On that last note, it’s important for me to emphasize that the department’s commitment to supporting workers with substance use disorders is not limited to ODEP. The Employee Benefits Security Administration enforces the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. Under this law, group health plans and insurance companies that provide mental health or substance use disorder benefits cannot impose less favorable benefit limitations on those benefits than on medical or surgical benefits. For example, they can’t have more restrictive copays or visit limits.
Under the Biden-Harris administration, EBSA and ODEP are working together to support individuals with substance use disorders by strengthening enforcement of mental health parity and promoting supportive, inclusive workplace policies and practices. The importance of these efforts has been amplified by Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, for whom this issue is also personal. The Secretary has been very open about how, when he sought treatment for alcohol use disorder early in his career, he was fortunate to have a supportive work environment and access to needed treatment through his union. His is just one example of the power of recovery—and the positive impact it has on workers and workplaces across the nation.
Taryn Williams is the assistant secretary of labor in the department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.