An employee assistance program shows compassion to employees without prying into their personal issues. Here’s how these programs can help.

There’s a reason why employee assistance programs (EAPs) have become such a popular part of benefits packages for employers and employees alike. (According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2019 Employee Benefits Survey, 79 percent of employers reported offering an EAP.)

An EAP can give your employees efficient, confidential access to tailored resources, which makes them a great way to help employees stay at work and remain productive.

After all, no one exists in a vacuum. Your employees will inevitably face distracting personal problems and responsibilities during their tenure at your company. And while you may wish that employees could just ignore these things once they enter the office, that’s not always possible. 

What is an employee assistance program?

EAP provides:

  • Counseling and
    consultation services for many work and home-life topics
  • Connection with customized
  • Referrals to specialized
    professionals, including:

    • Attorneys
    • Financial
    • Psychologists or
    • Therapists
    • Nutritionists
    • Other clinicians

support employees dealing with varying degrees of challenges:

Employee assistance program benefits

employers, EAPs reduce stress and personal distractions within their workforce,
which can contribute to:

  • Decreased absenteeism
  • Reduced
    accidents and fewer workers’ compensation claims

    • Employees who seek assistance or support may be
      less likely to become injured through inattention resulting from distracting
      personal issues.
  • Greater employee retention
  • Fewer disputes
    between employees

    • Employees
      who seek assistance or support may be less likely to engage in disputes with
      coworkers when areas of stress are sufficiently addressed through the EAP
  • Minimized impact
    on productivity and performance

EAPs can significantly reduce medical costs arising from early identification
and treatment of individual mental-health and substance-abuse issues.

employees, EAPs also deliver powerful benefits:

  • Access to
    multiple types and layers of resources, which ordinarily could be time
    consuming and prohibitively expensive for employees to identify, research and
    acquire independently
  • Strong
    encouragement to seek help with challenges – and, in turn, a reduction in the
    stigma associated with certain problems
  • Anonymity,
    especially when dealing with workplace-related issues or extremely sensitive issues
    they wouldn’t want to share with co-workers or managers
  • Quicker solution
    for problems or sources of distress
  • Reduced risk of problems
    spilling over into their work performance and jeopardizing their employment
  • Improvement of
    overall well-being
  • Promotion of work-life balance

How an employee assistance program

EAPs plans are subsidized entirely by employers. The cost of EAPs are usually
based on either:

  • Usage (pay by
    service used)
  • Fixed fee (per-employee
    cost per month or per year)

a typical EAP arrangement, employees enjoy telephone and online support with
clinicians that is:

  • 24/7
  • Unlimited
  • No cost

employees often are allotted a few face-to-face counseling sessions (per individual,
per issue, per year) at a private, off-site location.

certain circumstances, such as a tragedy
connected to the workplace
, EAP counselors may be available on-site to
employees for as long as employers deem appropriate.

minor medical issues, EAPs often provide 24-hour nurse assistance. For personal
emergencies, such as a domestic-violence situation in which someone needs to
leave their home environment quickly, EAPs can also help.

For employees in need of more than short-term counseling or sporadic assistance, EAPs serve as a gateway for accessing further, longer-term resources in accordance with individual needs. In these instances, employees will often receive a selection of (at least three) vetted, local referrals for comparison within their area of concern.

this point, contact with referrals can take place either over the phone, online
or in person, depending on the employee’s needs and the preferences of the
resource. This is where an employee’s contact with the EAP ends.

referrals are free to employees, but continued services with some referred
professionals could involve an initial consultation fee or discounted ongoing

Usage of employee assistance

EAP provider should give you regular usage reports covering a specified time
period – each month, quarter or year, for example.

is important so you can determine whether your company is getting its money’s
worth from the program.

EAPs keep identities confidential, usage reports will never tell you who, specifically,
is using the program. Instead, these reports show you how many employees are
taking advantage of your program and how, generally, they’re using it.

Communicating with your staff about
an employee assistance program

EAP providers give employers pamphlets and posters that help their employees
understand the benefits and options associated with the program.

EAPs will also send a representative to your office to participate in a
benefits open-enrollment information session or a wellness fair to talk to your
employees about the program. In some cases, an EAP may even offer the option of
sending a counselor for regular on-site visits so that your employees can
easily take advantage of these services.

highlight your EAP in your employee

Legal obligations to watch out for

If you choose to offer an EAP, you’ll be responsible for complying with related privacy laws.

If an employer has sufficient reason to mandate that an employee seek assistance through an EAP, there are parameters to adhere to. This is a very careful process in place for specific reasons and, if used inappropriately, can introduce significant risk to a company.

employer that determines a need to conduct a mandatory EAP referral should seek
outside counsel to ensure they follow the appropriate steps.

EAPs may also be considered group health plans, which could make them subject
to COBRA and other federal laws applicable to group health plans.

Finding an employee assistance
program provider

you join a professional
employer organization (PEO)
, your employees get access to extensive
benefit options, which often include an EAP.

you use a benefits broker, your broker should be able to help you select a
quality EAP provider. In addition, EAPs are sometimes offered as a piece of the
overall benefits package or health insurance plan you select.

resources trade groups, such as the SHRM may be able to offer recommendations. Many
of these same trade groups offer helpful EAP buyer guides that enable you to
view lists of potential EAP providers and compare them.

course, you’ll want to ensure that any EAP you select is reputable and delivers
services that are useful to your employees.

do you determine whether an EAP provider is reputable? Red flags to watch out
for include:

  • Lack of access to
    licensed or properly credentialed professionals
  • Weak privacy
  • Narrow range of
  • Limited means of
    contacting the EAP
  • Poor

Summing it all up

For many compelling reasons that appeal to employers and employees alike,
an employee assistance program (EAP) is a powerful workplace benefit.

Once you select a reputable EAP provider and implement your program, make
sure that you’re:

  • Adhering
    to all your legal obligations
  • Communicating
    with employees about their options within the EAP
  • Obtaining
    usage reports from your provider to determine whether you’re getting your
    money’s worth

more information on how a PEO can make the selection and implementation of an
EAP – among other benefits – efficient and hassle free for your company,
download our free e-book: HR
outsourcing: A step-by-step guide to professional employer organizations (PEOs)