What Is an Employee Assistance Program?

Approximately 54 percent of all workers in the United States have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Additionally, the number rises with the size of the employer. For example, 67 percent of those who work for companies with at least 100 employees can benefit from an EAP program, while 85 percent of those who work for companies with 500 or more employees have access to one.
 

Because candidates may ask about this benefit at some point during the hiring process, it’s important to understand how it works and why it’s beneficial. Learning the advantages an EAP provides employees and employers can also help you begin building your own program.
 

Here is some useful background to help you familiarize yourself with EAPs:
 

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What is an employee assistance program?

An EAP program is a workplace service that helps employees, and often their families, cope with a crisis or other stress-related situation. If an employer has a licensed counselor on staff, they may administer the service on their own, but most companies outsource it to a third party professional.
 

An EAP is similar to insurance programs with counseling coverage not tied to medical benefits. Even employees who opt out of health coverage can still use EAP benefits at no charge.
 

What types of benefits are covered under an EAP?

While EAP plans vary, here are a few of the most common benefits:
 

    • Addiction assessments and treatment

 

    • Emotional distress and stress reduction

 

    • Depression and anxiety treatment

 

    • Legal issues

 

    • Financial counseling

 

    • Work concerns

 

    • Child and elder care concerns

 

    • Traumatic event counseling

 

  • Health management issues

 

How do EAPs work?

When an employee or their family is struggling with a personal issue, they can contact the program intake specialist or coordinator through a confidential phone call or web-based consultation. The coordinator will connect the employee with relevant free or low-cost resources.
 

For example, if an employee is facing eviction, the service may connect them with an attorney for a free consultation. If the employee is coping with the depression, they may be referred to a counselor.
 

The types of services and the amount covered may vary based on the program selected, but most EAPs cover an employees first few visits.
 

Even though these programs are not insurance, they are often established and maintained similarly to insurance programs. There are several providers and plan types to choose from. The most common types of EAPs are:
 

    • Fixed-fee contracts (the employer pays a set amount per employee)

 

  • Fee-for-service contracts (the employer pays only when employees utilize the service)

 

Costs vary based on factors such as employer size, employee demographics and the types of services provided.
 

Are services confidential?

Keeping EAP services confidential will make employees feel more comfortable taking advantage of its benefits.
 

However, while programs are confidential, it’s important to note there may be circumstances when confidentiality may be legally breached, such as in cases of child abuse or when someone’s life or safety is at risk.
 

Company-mandated referrals have slightly different rules as well. For example, if an employee is facing a personal issue that impacts their performance at work, you may encourage them to leverage EAP resources as a final attempt to retain the employee. For example, if an employee fails a company drug test, an employer may require mandatory treatment for addiction.
 

“In these cases, employees are mandated by the employer to contact the EAP and a Release of Information is signed so the EAP can exchange information with the employer about employee attendance, compliance and recommendations,” says Kathryn Schneider, LPC, CEAP.
 

Why provide an EAP program?

Offering an EAP can help attract and retain top talent. Employees want to feel supported by their employer, and often appreciate a comprehensive benefits package. This is one of the many reasons it’s important for HR professionals and anyone involved in the employee onboarding process to understand how an EAP works and clearly explain its benefits to new hires.
 

Providing an EAP can offer employers the following advantages:
 

    • Reduced employee absenteeism

 

    • Improved physical and mental health

 

    • Increased productivity

 

  • Better workplace cooperation and collaboration

 

A well-planned employee assistance program offers a wealth of benefits for the workforce, while also helping support the company’s success. However, the team must actively and consistently use the program for employers to recognize its advantages. By choosing the right EAP and ensuring all employees understand how to access their benefits, you can help foster a happier, healthier workplace.
 

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