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Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

What Is an Employee Assistance Program?

An Employer Assistance Program (EAP) is a service provided to employees by their company that aims to support the employee’s wellbeing. This service is free and confidential and focuses on counseling the employee through some sort of difficult time. EAPs are often offered alongside an employee’s health plan, and focus on helping employees resolve personal problems that are harming their ability to perform their duties.

The first iterations of EAPs arose in the 1940s in order to help address the negative impact of alcohol misuse on productivity and organization. As more research was performed into issues that affect employees at work, the range of services provided by EAPs also expanded. EAPs slowly began to include other conflict management services that focused on mental health, workplace conflict, and general employee wellbeing.

30 years after EAPs began, in the 1970s, the Federal Government passed legislation focused on EAPs. These legislative decisions included the passage of the Hughes Act which mandated that Federal agencies be given access to EAPs. This expanded EAPs to be available to federal employees 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The 1970s also saw the rise of private EAP firms. These companies offered EAP service contracts to private employers. These private EAP providers also made their way into government EAPs, allowing federal agencies to use internal, external, hybrid, or consortium EAPs. In recent decades, these federal EAP systems have also been extended to family members of federal employees.

Key Takeaways

  • An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a form of work-based intervention service that is utilized by some employers to enhance the mental health of their employees at work or home.
  • Certain entities like the Federal Government are required to provide their employees with access to EAPs and can help with several interpersonal, career, and financial issues.
  • Sometimes, employees may suffer harm for seeking out EAP assistance, or the EAP assistance may cause harm. In those instances, employees may attempt to sue their employer.
  • If you have experienced some harm while trying to take advantage of your employer’s EAP, an experienced Employment Law attorney may be able to improve the outcome of your case by utilizing experience and expert knowledge.

Employee Assistance Programs and Employment Law

With the passage of laws like the Hughes Act, EAPs were codified as mandated organizations in federal agencies. These laws also codified what EAPs would be required to provide to federal employees. With the contemporary rise of private EAPs, these laws also ended up providing guidelines for what all EAP services should include.

EAPs typically include an assessment by a counselor, private counseling services, and referrals to additional services or resources to address personal or work-related concerns. Some examples that fall under the umbrella of “personal or work-related concerns” include:

  • Alcohol misuse
  • Family issues
  • Financial struggles
  • Internal office conflicts
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Workplace stress

EAP service providers can also act proactively with supervisors or upper management to consult on advanced situations such as organizational shifts, legal considerations, emergency action plans, or trauma responses.

EAPs are bound by the same rules as private counselors. That means that they are not allowed to divulge any information about the employee’s counseling to anyone else unless the employee consents to the information being released, the release of information is required to protect the employee, the release of information is required to protect the counselor, or the law compels the release of the information.

There are some requirements for the EAP regarding the use of alcohol, drugs, or other controlled substances. For instance, the law requires that EAPs include education and training about drug use for employees as well as training for supervisors to determine whether there is reasonable cause to compel an employee to take a drug test. 

Even with all the good EAPs are intended to do, some employees suffer from them. Whether they were harmed in the course of trying to obtain the EAP, or by the inadequate counseling itself, lawsuits have been filed by employees against their employers alleging harm.

Bottom Line

If you have suffered while trying to take advantage of your company’s EAP services, you may be able to file a lawsuit to seek damages for the harm dealt with you. To accomplish that task, you will need the help of an Employment Law attorney.

An experienced Employment Law attorney will consult with you and devise a strategy to achieve the best possible outcome for your case. Your Employment Law attorney will be able to zealously advocate for you on your behalf and utilize their legal expertise, trial tactics, and library of expert witnesses to help you achieve the outcome that you deserve.

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