Poll: Hiring Mgrs. Sympathetic to Addicts But Hesitant to Hire

February 2, 2004 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A quarter of human resources professionals admit that their companies are less likely to hire a job candidate if that person is recovering from drug or alcohol addiction, according to a new survey.

But many companies’ hiring practices don’t jibe with their personnel philosophy, Hazelden Foundation found in its survey of 200 HR professionals, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. Some 84% consider a drug or alcohol addiction a chronic illness or disease, while 89% believe that addiction treatment can be effective.

“The stigma of alcohol and drug addiction is alive and well,” Cheryl Lowe, employee relations manager for Hazelden, an addiction treatment and research center, told the newspaper. “Our study certainly shows that there is discrimination when it comes to people who have had an addiction.”

With an estimated 10% of the American adult population either suffering from an addiction problem or in recovery, it’s difficult to imagine that HR professionals would admit that discrimination exists, the report said.

“It bothers me that they believe that an addiction is a disease, but they choose to treat people with other chronic diseases differently,” Lowe said. “If you have a physical problem like cancer or a disease that requires some type of after-care, companies are very accepting of that. If you have an addiction and require after-care, they are not.”

Ann Clark, whose San Diego-based Ann Clark Associates runs a nationwide employee assistance plan for companies, says most managers in the workplace aren’t prepared to deal with addiction issues. She says managers are not trained to identify why workers exhibit certain behaviors and that they sometimes recognize the problem but look the other way when they spot problems.

The Hazelden survey shows that 36% of HR professionals don’t know how to steer addicted workers into treatment and that one in four say their companies believe it is easier in the long run to terminate an addicted employee rather than arranging for treatment. “Think about any other chronic condition,” Lowe asserted. “Do you think any employer would say that?”

Lowe and Clark agree that educating supervisors on how to spot drug and alcohol addicted workers is essential, as is informing them of where to direct those employees for help.