I have worked in Sweden on drug prevention for over 20 years. My own interest in addiction and occupational health started with the Swedish Armed Forces drug-prevention programme. I worked there for six years and I learned a lot about Sweden’s public policies for addiction treatment.
One of the unique features of addiction treatment in Sweden is that companies play an important role in providing for employees’ treatment. Companies in Sweden must comply with The Work Environment Act, which ensures a safe work environment for all employees.
Employers have wide responsibilities under this law to prevent accidents and health risks at the workplace and to rehabilitate employees back to work. Alcohol and drug abuse is included in this legislation.
Swedish companies are obliged to offer professional treatment to employees with alcohol and drug problems and, as long as the employee cooperates in their own rehabilitation, they cannot be fired. The same principle is used if relapse occurs.
The law also states that all employers need to have a written policy regarding alcohol and drug abuse. In these company policies you can find statements like : “the addiction must go, but the person must stay”.
This gives people with drug-addiction protection from being unfairly fired and also ensures that they have access to professional treatment — paid for by their employer.
The Work Environment Act has been tested several times in the Swedish Labour Court – which has almost always ruled in the favour of the employee.
The 12 step program of addiction treatment is the most commonly used model in Sweden and some large companies have 12-step fellowship meetings.
During my years in this sector I met many managers who said that one of their proudest moments has been the reintroduction of a co-worker back into the workplace, after a successful treatment process.
A large construction company in Sweden stated: “A person who has gone through successful treatment for alcohol or drug addiction should have as equal an opportunity for a successful career in this company as a person without this experience.”
Anna Sjöström is Castle Craig’s representative in Sweden.