About Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)

What are EAP Benefits and How Do They Help Employees?

Employee Assistance Program
Employee Assistance Program. Depositphotos.com/Jim_Filim

In a 'perfect' world, employees could separate their personal experiences from their professional lives. But, the reality is that many workers spend their days worried over untold personal matters which can reduce their effectiveness and put a strain on productivity levels. Fortunately, organizational leaders understand the human side of the workplace and this has led to the development of Employee Assistance Programs or EAPs, which provide support and resources for struggling employees and their spouses.

What is an EAP?

An Employee Assistance Program is a unique employee benefit in that it’s generally offered at no cost to employees. Essentially, an EAP is designed as an intervention program that serves to identify and help employees with resolving any number of personal, financial, emotional, marital, or substance abuse issues that they may be faced with. These are problems that generally interfere with the employee’s ability to perform his or her work up to company standards, or may be putting the employee and the company at risk.

For example, an employee may present with a drug problem, and during a routine alcohol and drug test may test positive for an illegal substance. The option to participate in the EAP may be offered, and by doing so, the company can protect itself legally and provide an option for the employee to retain employment while undergoing treatment and counseling for this problem.

How Can EAPs be Used?

Employee Assistance Programs can also be utilized by employees who are under a great deal of emotional stress due to marital or family relationship discord. They may be dealing with domestic violence, have an out-of-control child at home, be facing overwhelming student loan debt, or just need to talk with a caring counselor about a personal problem.

In many cases, the spouse or partner of the employee can obtain support from the EAP as well – to help sort things out so that the employee can experience a more positive work and personal life. Some EAPs also include access to free and low cost legal aid and referrals to attorneys who work with people in the community.

EAP is Not Health Insurance

It’s important to note that Employee Assistance Programs are not actual health insurance plans, nor do they provide financial support to employees. However, many EAPs offer nurse advice via toll free hotlines for making important health decisions, or for getting information about mental health counseling or health services. Some programs may also be able to facilitate access to specialized care, such as for elder care services, respite care support, and even free medical clinics.

How are EAPs Administered?

EAPs are 100 percent paid for by employers and are most often operated through an agreement with a third-party administrator. This is critical because employees must feel comfortable speaking in confidence with a professional about their personal problems, without fear of losing their jobs or status at work. However, if the EAP offers access to medically-related support, such as mental health counseling or treatment for alcoholism/substance abuse, they are regulated by ERISA and subject to COBRA guidelines.

As per the US Department of Labor and ACA guidelines, EAP programs, "are considered to be excepted benefits, but only if the program does not provide significant benefits in the nature of medical care or treatment." EAPs are not portable benefits, and they expire upon termination from the company benefits program.

What EAPs are For 

The overall purpose of any Employee Assistance Program is to ensure that employees are able to manage their daily lives and remain productive, even when faced with difficult life experiences. All employees should be advised about the EAP program and given instructions about how to access these benefits at no cost to them when they need support. Managers can and should refer employees to the EAP if they are unable to resolve the matter through on-the-job coaching and HR support.

While the company may know that an employee has participated in the EAP, the employee’s information is private and never disclosed to the employer.

EAP programs are part of a competitive benefits package and they can be highly beneficial in the workplace because they promote employee self-managed care, which can reduce health care costs for emergency room visits and expensive treatments for addictions and negative behaviors that go on too long. Employees are encouraged to take advantage of this no-cost benefit which is available any time of the year.