What Is an Employee Assistance Program?

What Is an Employee Assistance Program?

People who struggle with addiction, mental health disorders, or other stressful situations may find help in employee assistance programs offered through the workplace

It is beneficial for employers to have workers who are healthy, focused and productive, and they may pursue this goal in a variety of ways. In some offices and worksites, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are available. EAPs help workers to address a range of concerns that may affect job performance.

The Office of Disability Employment Policy notes that EAPs may address a variety of issues, including services, referrals and education related to the following:

  • Mental health issues
  • Substance abuse
  • Family issues like divorce, parenting and caring for aging parents
  • Financial planning
  • Disease prevention, including weight reduction and smoking cessation
  • Career counseling

An article on the history of EAPs notes that they are an outgrowth of occupational social work and occupational alcoholism programs. Occupational social work began in the early 20th century, and occupational alcoholism programs in the early 1940s. Programs that focused on addiction began adding services related to family issues and mental health in the mid-1970s.

EAPs identify and meet employee needs in multiple ways. They may offer counseling in many forms, including in person, online, and over the phone. Sometimes EAPs sponsor educational programs, seminars, or conferences. Although they are funded by employers, services are generally delivered by companies who specialize in the services.

How to Know if Your Employer Offers an EAP

All federal agencies are required to provide Employee Assistance Programs to their workers. Private employers have the choice of whether or not to offer them, but many, especially larger companies, choose to provide the service. An states that over 97% of companies who employ more than 5,000 workers provide EAPs. The rate for companies with 1001-5000 employees is 80%, and 75% for companies with between 251 and 1,000 employees. Most universities and public schools also have EAPs. In educational settings, the programs may be called Faculty Staff Assistance Programs.

Some employers are more proactive about promoting EAP services than others are. Some include them in benefit fairs or regularly schedule informational programs. Employers may place screening questionnaires, such as for depression or substance abuse, in a break room, or provide them online. Posters, brochures, and wallet cards may be utilized.

Workers unsure if their employer offers an EAP should contact their Human Resources Department or benefits manual. It is also wise to verify the scope of the services. Many EAPs offer services not only to employees, but also to their family members. Generally, an EAP provides a toll-free number and employees make initial contact with the program by phone. Counseling sessions are generally scheduled quickly, often within a few days.

EAPs and Privacy Issues

Sometimes people are concerned about privacy issues. Although employers may handle the issue in different ways, a common scenario is for confidentiality to differ depending on the referral source. In general, if workers seek help on their own, no record is made and the employer is not informed. Co-workers and others may also make informal referrals that are not formally noted. Sometimes a formal referral to services is made by a supervisor when job performance is being significantly compromised, and a record of this may appear in a personnel file.

The actual content of counseling sessions is private and confidential. Exceptions include occasions when child abuse or neglect are suspected and circumstances in which employees are deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. Workers who are concerned about confidentiality should ask whether their EAP program is subject to HIPPA privacy laws or has another type of privacy policy in place.

The Scope of EAP Services

EAP programs are offered at no cost to the employees or any covered family members. Sometimes, however, the counseling services offered by an EAP are not sufficient to fully address problems and workers are referred to other services with an associated cost. Sometimes these costs are covered by health insurance. The number of free sessions provided varies by employer and plan, with five to ten available sessions being a common range.

If a person was officially referred to an EAP by a supervisor, then sometimes counseling sessions can take place on company time. When workers self-refer, the sessions usually take place outside of work hours. Generally, sessions last about an hour.

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