HR Florida


Florida State Council Affiliate of SHRM

National Recovery Ready / Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative: Supporting Americans with Substance Use Disorder

By Cheryl Brown Merriwether, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, CPRC, CRSS, CM

The 2022 White House National Drug Control Strategy identified the need to support individuals in recovery as a key long-term response to substance use disorder (SUD).  Consequently, the goal to create a “recovery-ready nation” was born.  

In November 2023, the Biden-Harris administration unveiled new initiatives to foster recovery-ready workplaces as part of President Biden’s National Drug Control Strategy. These initiatives are designed to assist Americans grappling with or in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD).  This strategy also seeks to expand employment opportunities and contribute to overall economic growth and societal well-being.


The introduction of new workplace recovery resources is a component of the administration’s Unity Agenda, aimed at combating the overdose epidemic and saving lives. By equipping businesses, non-profits, unions, trade associations, and government entities with tools and guidance, the administration seeks to create environments that support employees with SUD.

The centerpiece of this initiative is the Recovery-Ready Workplace Toolkit crafted by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) with the help of 12 federal government departments and independent agencies.  The toolkit was developed to guide employers on how to establish and maintain recovery-ready, recovery supportive or recovery-friendly workplaces.

Recovery-Ready Workplace Toolkit: National Efforts and Support

The publication of the Recovery-Ready toolkit has united a grassroots movement of employers, advocates, elected officials, and service providers who want to promote recovery in the workplace.

The toolkit is housed within the Department of Labor’s Recovery-Ready Workplace Resource Hub and offers comprehensive guidance for employers. It advises businesses how to prevent and effectively respond to SUD among employees.  The practices and resources documented in the toolkit support the hiring of individuals in recovery, fostering the creation of a recovery-supportive workplace culture.

The toolkit is also available for state, local, and tribal governments, labor organizations, business groups, and non-profits interested in launching multi-employer recovery-ready workplace initiatives.  It aims to reduce the impact of substance misuse on employers and the broader community, supporting the creation of recovery-ready workplaces that can hire, onboard, and retain employees in recovery.

The Recovery-Ready Workplace Toolkit is an essential resource for employers looking to support their employees and mitigate the impact of SUD. By adopting RRW policies, businesses can improve their operations, support their employees, and contribute positively to their communities.

The Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative in New Hampshire

In addition to the federal government’s Recovery Ready Workplace initiative, New Hampshire, under the leadership of Governor Chris Sununu, launched a Recovery Friendly Workplace (RFW) Initiative in 2018. The RFW initiative focuses on preventing substance misuse and supporting recovery from SUDs within workplaces and the community. The RFW initiative encourages collaboration among employers, employees, and communities to create positive change, eliminate stigma, and support recovery.

Growth and Expansion:

The RFW model has been very successful, so much so that by the end of 2023, Recovery Friendly Workplaces had expanded organically to more than 30 states. Each effort has been guided by the mission of the RFW Initiative, which is to cultivate supportive, stigma-free work environments that promote health and well-being.

The government, business and community partners who collaborate to promote the establishment of RFW within their community or state acknowledge that prevention, treatment, and recovery support systems save lives and resources. This shared awareness incentivizes them to work together to explore innovative new solutions as part of integrating recovery-friendly practices into workplaces.

National Recovery Ready Workplace Institute: Certified Recovery Friendly Workplaces

A “Recovery Friendly Workplace” (RFW) is defined as an environment where employers, in collaboration with employees, establish and maintain policies, practices, and a culture that supports employees affected by SUD.  The implementation of RFW initiatives is crucial because meaningful employment is a key component for individuals seeking to achieve and maintain long-term recovery from SUD.

Nevertheless, despite SUD being a significant health issue in the U.S., workplaces have been slow to support employees in recovery, often treating SUD differently from other chronic health conditions like cancer or diabetes.

To support the continued growth, expansion and long-term sustainability of the recovery-friendly workplace initiatives, in January of 2023, the Global Recovery Initiatives Foundation (GRI), launched the National Recovery Friendly Workplace Institute.  The National RFW Institute is the first national initiative to help employers become recovery friendly.

The Institute collaborates with federal agencies, researchers, service providers, and leaders in the recovery community to engage employers in creating certified Recovery Friendly Workplaces. A 2023 survey found that employees are comfortable working with and supportive of colleagues in recovery, and they desire a workplace culture where SUD is treated like any other health condition.

Characteristics of a Recovery Friendly Workplace

Recovery Friendly Workplaces provide knowledge, tools, and resources about SUD and recovery to their employees.  They use education, discussion, and training to address and challenge the stigma associated with SUD. In a RFW, SUD and recovery are managed in accordance with the same policies and procedures as other chronic health conditions.

In addition to offering support for employees pursuing or seeking to maintain recovery, RFWs also provide resources for their employees’ loved ones.  They also recognize the value of creating a psychologically safe organizational culture that encourages employees to seek recovery support services without fear of job loss.

Lastly, Recovery Friendly Workplaces can pursue and achieve certification (either at the national or state level) as a Recovery Friendly Workplace.  The importance of certification cannot be overstated as it sets the RFW standards by which all employers must be held accountable. 

Significance for Employers

SUD is prevalent in the workforce, with 26.9 million Americans aged 18 or older with SUD employed in 2021, and 77.6 percent of them employed full-time. Employers are particularly impacted by untreated SUD, facing challenges such as missed workdays, reduced productivity, high turnover rates, and increased healthcare costs. Additionally, SUD complicates the hiring process and elevates the risk of work-related accidents and liabilities.

Adopting recovery-ready workplace policies makes good business sense. These policies help reduce absenteeism, enhance productivity, lower healthcare costs, and decrease turnover rates. By treating SUD as a health condition rather than a moral failing, employers can create supportive environments that encourage employees to seek help without fear of negative consequences, ultimately reducing risks and costs for the organization.

In summary, the Recovery Friendly Workplace initiative promotes employee wellness and helps combat the opioid and overdose epidemic by creating supportive work environments. By adopting recovery-friendly practices, employers can enhance workforce health, reduce stigma, and demonstrate good corporate citizenship, ultimately contributing to a healthier and more productive society.

Florida Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiatives:

Recognizing the many benefits that RFWs provide to individuals and workplaces, Florida is in the early stages of creating a RFW Community of Practice (COP).  Members of the community come from all areas of the state, representing local government agencies, small, medium and large-sized business and employers from diverse industries, researchers, trainers, educators, SUD treatment providers, along with individuals from the recovery community including recovery peers, coaches, supporters, and their allies.  To join or learn more about the FL RFW CoP, email me at [email protected], Subject:  FL RFW CoP.

About the Author:

Cheryl Brown Merriwether, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, CPRC, CRSS, CM

CoFounder, Vice President, Executive Director, International Center for Addiction & Recovery Education (ICARE), a division of NET Institute that provides addiction awareness, prevention and related solutions to businesses and individuals. 

Cheryl Brown Merriwether brings over two decades of experience in corporate HR management at AT&T, addiction recovery awareness, and adult education to the International Center for Addiction and Recovery Education (ICARE). As CoFounder, VP and Executive Director, she oversees and directs the administration, operations, and student support services for ICARE’s three divisions, ICARE Workforce Solutions™, International Association of Professional Recovery Coaches (IAPRC) and NET Institute.. 

Cheryl serves on the National Recovery Friendly Workplace: Definition and 2024 National Certification Standards Group, presented by the National Recovery Friendly Workplace Institute, an initiative of the 501(c)(3) not-for-profit Global Recovery Initiatives Foundation (GRI).  Additionally, Cheryl is the Immediate Past President of GOSHRM, an active Board Member of Project Opioid, and a former adjunct faculty member at the University of Phoenix.

In February 2023 Cheryl was awarded BambooHR’s inaugural HR Experience Maker Award in the Heart & Soul category.  In 2022 SUCCESS Magazine named Cheryl a winner of their inaugural 2022 Women of Influence awards for her pioneering work in the field of addiction and recovery.  She graduated from the Rally Social Enterprise Accelerator 2022 Winter program, which provides mentorship, 1:1 coaching and resources to social entrepreneurs seeking positive social change.   Cheryl has been quoted in and written extensively for top tier business and HR publications including Fortune Magazine, HR Executive Magazine, Employee Benefits News, Reworked, and others.  She has also been a featured speaker at leading HR Conferences and related podcasts about substance use disorder (SUD) in the workplace and what is being done to mitigate this pervasive societal problem.   

LinkedIn profile