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What is an Employee Assistance Program?

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are employer-sponsored employee benefit programs created to help employees handle issues that may be negatively affecting their health and well-being and in turn, impacting their productivity at work. According to the 2018 SHRM Employee Benefits Research Report, 78 percent of surveyed employers offered an EAP. Those same employers found EAPs to be a cost-effective tool to help mitigate risks involving employees within their organizations. EAPs commonly include free counseling sessions and referral services for employees and their immediate family members or anyone living in the same household as the employees. In addition, they may include training sessions to teach management-level staff members and HR professionals on how to recognize the signs of and to possibly resolve behavioral-related, health-related, or job-related performance issues.

Employers may select from a wide range of EAP delivery models.  They include:

  • In-house programs where the EAP staff is directly employed by the organization
  • Fixed-fee contracts where employers contract with the EAP provider to provide services based upon the number of employees within the organization
  • Fee-for-service contracts where employers contract with the EAP provider and only pay for those services that are provided to eligible individuals
  • Consortia where small business join together to contract with an EAP provider so that the cost per employee is lower
  • Peer assistance programs where employers train peers to work with troubled employees to address issues within predetermined rules and limits
  • Part of a medical insurance plan within the organization, where covered employees and their dependents on the medical insurance plan are eligible to participate in the EAP
  • Mixed-model programs that may include two or more of the options listed above

Once a vendor is selected, employees may begin to use the EAP services in a variety of ways:

  • A self-referral where employees, their immediate family members, or anyone living in the same household contacts the EAP directly
  • An informal referral where an employee, friend or colleague suggests the use of the EAP to an eligible individual
  • A formal referral where based upon observation, a management-level employee or an HR professional mandates the EAP visit to the employee due to performance-related or a work habit-related issue

In the scenario where a formal referral is made and the employee consents, the management-level employee or the HR professional may first consult with the EAP counselor with regards to the specifics of the situation. Then with a signed release the EAP counselor may discuss with the employer representative their assessment of the situation, approximate number of sessions that the employee will attend with the EAP counselor, and how and when the issue may or may not be resolved, if appropriate. Employers are cautioned to not use the threat of termination if an employee chooses to not participate in the formal mandated EAP session, as the employee may claim discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and its Amendments Act (ADAAA), based upon a perceived disability. In all circumstances both the organization and the EAP are required to follow all regulations in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).  

An employee, their immediate family members or anyone living in the same household as the employee, may choose to use EAPs for many different reasons. There may be personal-related issues or work-related issues that over a period of time, have been difficult to resolve. Counselors contacted through EAPs typically provide evaluations and support for a limited number of program-paid counseling sessions. If further counseling is required, referrals may be covered through the employees’, their immediate family members or another individual who lives in the same household’s medical insurance. Some of the reasons an individual may choose to seek out an EAP are as follows:

  • Marital, family or personal relationship issues
  • Job stress and/or conflict-related issues
  • Eldercare, childcare, or parenting issues
  • Substance or alcohol abuse
  • Emotional issues and depression
  • Harassment or violence
  • Health concerns
  • Financial or legal stress
  • Major life events, e.g. birth, adoption, and death
  • Tragic accidents
  • Wellness program, e.g. smoking cessation, weight management, and stress management
  • Assistant with balancing work and home life

As stated previously, typically, the EAPs services are free to the employee, their immediate family members, or anyone living in the same household as the employee. The sessions are also completely confidential, being considered the same as any other health care appointment. Organizations often adopt EAPs to help maintain a healthy workforce and studies have shown that those with EAPs:

  • Improve morale and work place harmony
  • Reduce accidents
  • Reduce workers’ compensation claims
  • Reduce safety and security issues
  • Reduce medical insurance costs
  • Reduce tardiness and absenteeism
  • Increase employee productivity
  • Resolve performance-related or work habit-related issues
  • Reduce employee complaints
  • Reduce overall company costs

So, while EAPs are an employer-sponsored benefit that employees may benefit from, not all organizations are engaged with one. Those organizations who don’t have an EAP should ask themselves if they believe that both their employees, their immediate family members, and anyone else living in the employee’s household would benefit from the opportunity to use such a benefit and then determine the cost incurred by the organization for offering such benefit. Most employers once engaged with an EAP will find that the cost of offering such benefit far outweighs the negative consequences of not offering an EAP and having unproductive employees within their workforce.  

For additional information on EAPs, please contact us at www.newfocushr.com.

Written by: Kristen Deutsch, M.B.A., CCP






New Focus HR is a human resources consulting and training company that services all organizations. Our expert team collaborates with businesses to attract, motivate, retrain and retain their biggest assets, employees. While engaged with an organization, our focus is to find solutions that improve the company’s internal HR-related practices while increasing results at the same time! Our focus. Your results.