The Hippo


Jan 23, 2020








Tackling workplace stigma
Plan puts employers on front lines of opioid fight


Ryan Lessard

When Jennifer Cleveland of Pembroke decided to seek treatment for her alcoholism, one of her biggest fears was walking into the human resources department at her job to request the time off.

“I was super nervous. I was really, really nervous,” she said.
She worked at Grappone Automotive for about a year before hitting rock bottom, Cleveland said. Thanks to the insurance program at the company, she was able to get excellent treatment at the Ambrosia Treatment Center on Singer Island, Florida, which cost about $70,000, covered by work. She just wasn’t sure she’d have a job to come back to after what turned into about two and a half months of leave in 2011.
“I think the biggest stigma … that anybody has is that they’re afraid they’re going to lose their job,” Cleveland said.
Luckily, she said, the HR people were helpful and encouraging. They told her to take as much time as she needed.
Grappone owner Amanda Osmer said the company has long adhered to policies that made the workplace a safe place to talk about and seek help for mental health issues and addiction. Now, it’s one of the early adopters of a new statewide initiative to get more companies on board by offering resources to employees in crisis.
Becoming Recovery-Friendly
Gov. Chris Sununu launched the Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative March 1, just two weeks after it was first announced during his State of the State address. The idea owes its roots to Sununu’s own experience as a business owner.
“This was an idea I personally created back when I was running Waterville Valley. We were a large business, we were up in the North Country, [and] at the time, we didn’t have a lot of tools and resources regionally available to us ... if some of our employees were having a tough time dealing with addiction,” Sununu said in a recent phone interview.
Osmer has provided training to managers at Grappone by partnering with the Farnum Center, and there is an Employee Assistance Program that allows employees reach out to a third party for things like mental health and addiction issues while maintaining their anonymity. The company pays for the service.
“We try to make it easy for people to talk about the issues,” Osmer said.
Osmer said Marty Boldin, the governor’s policy advisor on prevention, treatment and recovery, approached her about becoming an early adopter of the program. There was a checklist of things they had to do to qualify, but as far as she recalls they didn’t have to do anything different from what they were already doing.
“I love people. That’s why I’m here. I’m not here because I love cars,” Osmer said.
So, far the reception to the new initiative has been positive, according to Sununu.
“We have governors from all over the country asking us about our program now, how it’s working, and we’re just getting it off the ground,” he said.
A win-win
The way Sununu describes it, this is a program as much for businesses’ bottom lines as it is for tackling the opioid epidemic. 
“This isn’t a charity. This is a win-win for businesses. It allows people to enter the workforce, it allows businesses to be smarter about how they do certain things and how to be better aware of what resources are in their community, how you use those resources,” Sununu said.
The idea is that with these resources and tools, employers will retain employees by helping them through their substance use disorder. It creates a “positive environment,” Sununu said, and that helps reduce the stigma for existing employees who need help, but it may also reduce the stigma for unemployed people who have been discouraged from seeking work because of their addiction.
“Especially when you look at that 2.6 percent unemployment, we know there’s a lot of folks out there that are on the sidelines and not engaging in the workforce, maybe they’re in recovery, they’re hesitant to get back into the workforce, they’re hesitant because they might not know how well their struggle with addiction … will be understood by their employer, whether they can be in an environment that’s conducive to their recovery,” Sununu said.
Once a company signs up online at the state sends resources for training employees and information about regional treatment and recovery centers their employees can access.
Sununu said the initiative could be especially helpful to small companies, which make up the majority of the state’s employers and often don’t have human resources departments. 
A bill related to this initiative passed the Senate earlier this month. It would ensure businesses who invest in the initiative can get tax credits against their business taxes when they donate to it through the Community Development Finance Authority. The bill is now being reviewed by the House Ways and Means Committee. 

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