Get Help for Your Employee With Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)

It has long been understood that drug and alcohol use can impact work productivity and output, and increase absenteeism and health-related issues. In answer to the performance and productivity loss caused by alcohol, employee assistance programs, or EAPs, were founded in the 1940s, the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) publishes. Traditionally working as occupational alcohol treatment programs, EAPs have evolved as employers recognized that alcohol was not the only thing negatively impacting workers’ productivity.

By the 1950s, EAPs were expanded to include mental health services, and in the 1970s, the Hughes Act mandated EAPs for all federal agencies. Also in the 1970s, private firms began offering EAP services to companies, and the formation of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) began to recognize alcoholism as a disease, thus helping to dispel some of the stigma attached to alcohol abuse and addiction.

The 1980s saw healthcare cuts and scaling back of EAPs, limiting the availability and effectiveness of the programs and resulting in long waits for services. In more recent years, these services have ramped up again. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 further changed the face of EAPs due to the increased demand for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) services. Programs began to include emergency planning, trauma support, and incident debriefing.

Today, many corporations and companies have employee assistance programs in place that offer services for the following concerns:

  • Financial struggles
  • Mental health concerns
  • Substance abuse issues
  • Greif or loss of a loved one
  • Workplace conflicts
  • Marital and family problems
  • Legal concerns
  • Childcare and transportation struggles
  • Emergency preparedness concerns
  • Elder care issues

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that employee assistance programs offer counseling and short-term assistance for people needing help with drug and/or alcohol abuse. They can provide resources to further treatment options that can improve workplace productivity, attendance, and a sustained drug-free existence.

Using an EAP

While most large companies and many smaller ones offer EAP services to their employees, the LA Times publishes that only 4-6 percent of people who have access to these programs actually use them. This may be in part related to social stigmas associated with EAPs, as there is a common misconception that people who use these services must do so because they are “in trouble” for something, such as failing a drug test. It also may be difficult for people to reach out for help, believing that to do so is to imply they are “weak.”

Everyone suffers from stress, however, and EAPs can help people to manage common difficulties. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSUDH) reports that in 2014, over 21 million people in the United States battled alcohol and/or drug addiction, meaning that one out of every 12 American adults struggles with the disease of addiction, making it a common disorder that impacts over 8 percent of the adult population in this country.

Employees may also not realize that these services exist or that they are completely confidential. Employers do not have access to private information regarding employees who use EAP services. They may request aggregate data on the services, but this information is generic and not specific.

Employee assistance programs are entirely confidential, and OPM reports that there are laws in place protecting the privacy of people using services for alcohol and drug abuse. These records cannot be shared without the expressed consent of the employee. Therefore, jobs can be protected.

EAP services may also provide help transitioning back to work after an absence for addiction treatment programs or services. Companies may have specific rules regarding their EAP and confidentiality. Employees are encouraged to inquire with their human resources department directly to find out more.

Employee assistance programs are often open to family members of employees who are covered under the same health insurance as well as to the employee themselves. EAPs may also be offered by health insurers as a complementary component of their behavioral healthcare services. EAP services are open to all employees, even managers and those who already have comprehensive healthcare coverage.

EAP services are often available via telephone or online, and a program may provide face-to-face counseling. Employees may call their EAP at any time day or night to request counseling or other services. EAPs usually have a 24-hour local hotline set up for employees to use in times of crisis or anytime they need to talk to a trained professional. When contacting the EAP provider, usually all an employee will need to use is the name of the company where they work in order to access services, further protecting confidentiality. Employees do not need to inform their employers that they are contacting the EAP. Services are often provided off site as well.

To use EAP services, all an employee needs to do is call the EAP number provided by their employer (often found within healthcare coverage information, on a website, posted on a bulletin board, contained in the employee handbook, or within employee hiring information). An employee does not need to let the company or workplace know about this contact, and EAP services are generally flexible and able to be scheduled around any work and other existing obligations.

Depending on the specific program, individuals may request in-person or phone counseling. EAP websites also often provide a wealth of information and resources as well.

Typically, an employee assistance program will allow for 3-12 free sessions per person within a calendar year. Employee assistance programs are staffed by certified counselors who provide services at no cost to the employees using them. These services are meant to be short-term, and counselors will often provide referrals for additional treatment needs beyond the first several sessions.

Drug-Free Workplace

In order for a company to be considered a drug-free workplace by the federal government, they must have an EAP in place, OPM reports. The employee assistance program must be free for employees to access and open to all employees. It must provide quality education, counseling, direction, and referrals for rehabilitation services, and it must coordinate with local and available community resources.

Employees and family members may seek out and use EAP services as an initial step in the addiction treatment process and then be provided with resources and referrals to additional services and programs as needed. Trained EAP providers can direct employees to get the help they need and advise them on their rights. They can also inform employees regarding available resources.

Many companies have a mandatory EAP referral policy. This means that if an employee is suspected of abusing drugs and/or alcohol, they may be mandated to use EAP services and be cleared before returning to work. The transportation and healthcare industries commonly have mandatory EAP referrals to protect clients and the public from potential issues regarding on-the-job substance abuse and intoxication. Often, a positive drug test can be means for a mandatory referral to EAP services. Managers can contact EAP providers directly to begin the referral process.

The goals of an EAP are to maintain balance in the workplace and to increase productivity. Healthy and well-balanced employees are happier and more productive, absent less, and more likely to report job satisfaction than those who aren’t. To achieve these goals, an employee assistance program can help employees gain access to necessary resources to manage issues with alcohol and/or drug abuse.

Further Reading