Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP)

What is an EAP?

An EAP, or employee assistance programme, is a confidential, short term, counselling service for employees with personal problems that affect their work performance. EAPs grew out of industrial alcoholism programs of the 1940's. EAPs should be part of a larger company plan to promote wellness that involves written policies, supervisor and employee training, and, where appropriate, an approved drug testing programme.

What is the purpose of an EAP?

The EAP offers help with the resolution of problems that are affecting work. These problems, however, do not have to be caused by workplace issues. Employee Assistance Programmes are designed to help people understand or overcome their personal problems. While most EAPs offer a wide range of services, they often refer to other professionals or agencies who can offer more or extended care in particular areas.

What types of services does an EAP offer?

The range of areas typically managed by an EAP provider include:

  • personal issues
  • job stress
  • relationship issues
  • eldercare, childcare, parenting issues
  • harassment
  • substance abuse
  • separation and loss
  • balancing work and family
  • financial or legal
  • family violence

Who can use an EAP?

EAPs are open to all employees and members of their immediate family.

What happens when I call an EAP?

In most cases, an EAP phone number is posted or otherwise distributed to staff members. This number is often to what is known as a referral agent.

A referral agent could be a someone from within the organisation such as a health professional in the medical department, a union counsellor or an employee who has received EAP training. If there is no internal referral agent, the employee could be referred to an external EAP resource. Referral agents must be familiar with available community resources which could include social, financial and mental health services, professional counsellors, or ministers. A referral agent defines the specific nature of the problem and refers the person to the appropriate resource for assistance. The actual referral depends on the type of problem, the preference of the person, and the ability of the person to pay for the service (if costs are not otherwise covered by the EAP or insurance program).

When an employee voluntarily contacts an EAP provider, a confidential record is opened. The EAP provider will collect any necessary information and, depending on the severity of the problem and the capabilities of the EAP personnel, will decide if the problem can be handled by the provider or if a referral is needed to an outside resource (such as a particular substance abuse programme). Interviews are typically offered to the employee within a set period of time (e.g., interviews will be conducted within 24 or 48 hours) unless the situation is judged to be an emergency.

What happens with an EAP referral and who knows about it?

In an EAP, there are three types of referrals:

  1. self-referral where the employee seeks help on their own
  2. the informal referral where a supervisor, friend or co-worker recommends the EAP.

 No record of these two types of referral appears in the employee's personnel file.

  1. a formal referral is based on job performance and the supervisor recommends the EAP. This recommendation may or may not appear in the individual's personnel file depending on the situation. Often, no notation is made unless there is a need for formal disciplinary action. What is discussed during the sessions, however, is not reported to the employer in either case.

What makes an EAP successful?

Several factors make an EAP successful:

  • strict confidentiality
  • open to employees and their immediate families
  • recognition and commitment by management, employees and union (if there is one) that an EAP is needed
  • policies and procedures supported by top management, employees and the union
  • establishment of both formal and informal referral procedures
  • promotion of the EAP and encouragement to use the service
  • managers and employees educated in the workings of the EAP
  • periodic evaluation of the EAP to be sure the needs of both the employee and the employer are being met

In addition, the EAP must be monitored and evaluated to ensure continued quality of the referral/assistance and to correct potential trouble situations. An appropriate assessment, referral and follow-up of progress are important for continued success of the EAP.

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