Treating Employees Equally & Fairly–A Natural Thing to Do
What does it mean to be a recovery-friendly workplace in Maine?
“Part of who we are is to help the community, people and businesses to be the best they can be,” says Lee Umphrey, president and CEO of Eastern Maine Development Corp. (EMDC), which is headquartered in Bangor “So to be a recovery-friendly organization is a natural extension of that. It’s inherent in who we are and what we do.”
In addition, the Northeastern Workforce Development Board has created a program to designate workplaces as recovery-friendly, and maintains a list of recovery-friendly workplaces on its website.
“I like the idea they’ve done that,” Umphrey says, “because it adds value and structure and helps other businesses think that way.”
Maine has been in the throes of an opioid crisis for years now, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated problems for individuals experiencing addiction.
“A lot of the issues people face in society, individually, family-wise, and collectively in our communities have been compounded,” Umphrey says. “So it’s even more important for us to look at people, communities, and how we can help.”
“It’s essential that people in recovery get an opportunity to get back to work,” he says. “We’ve hired a lot of people who’ve had the tentacles of circumstance get to them, and we try to get them back on their feet.” As far as gaps in their employment related to addiction, Umphrey adds, “I don’t think people should hide their misfortune or time lapses in employment. Just be honest and say they’ve had personal challenges, and now they’re ready to go back to work.”
EMDC often hires people in recovery as Peer Connectors who provide information about opportunities for work and education to other EMDC employees.
“We have people who have either suffered from addiction or been incarcerated, and we’ve helped them help others,” Umphrey says. “We have to be sure those people get the support they need from us as an organization…we really try to strengthen our support structure and our employees’ safety net to be sure they don’t fall back.”
Although EMDC hasn’t actively promoted itself as a recovery-friendly workplace, according to Umphrey, the word is getting out. Of 65 employees, he estimates 10-12 are in recovery. “I feel strongly that we as a society should be at the point where we don’t need that designation, that we should all equally try to help our neighbors and friends to succeed,” Umphrey says.
“For me, it’s just one component of being a good organization,” he adds. “We need to treat employees equally and fairly, and support them not only to be successful in their jobs, but to be successful in their communities.
We should be promoting equality to all people, on gender issues, substance abuse issues, and diversity issues.
I think it’s good that it’s being talked about, but we should be further along.
For me, it’s a natural thing to do because it’s the right thing to do.”