Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) were created in the 1940s to address the negative occupational impacts of alcohol misuse. Over time, employers realized that alcohol misuse was not the only issue potentially affecting worker performance. After the initial rollout, EAPs have expanded their scope, focusing on personal and professional total mind-body health and wellness. EAPs provide confidential assessments, initial counseling services, and referrals to outside professionals if longer-term assistance is required.
What is an EAP? Is my information kept confidential? Who pays for this benefit?
EAPs have evolved into a unique employee benefit that is usually 100% employer-paid, offering free and confidential services to employees when navigating life challenges. Employee assistance programs are used as an added benefit; these programs are not intended to replace health insurance plans or provide financial support to employees.
Employees may initially be skeptical about sharing private information with EAPs; however, their information is secure and never disclosed with the employer unless the safety of the workplace is compromised or in the event of an ongoing criminal investigation (including criminal acts such as child or elder abuse). Employees may also choose to sign a release of information; for example, if an employee is seeking accommodation at work for a physical or emotional problem. The workplace and EAPs follow all state laws and regulations regarding confidentiality.
Employees usually do not have any financial charges associated with participation in EAPs. Employers typically offer this benefit at no cost. Costs associated with outside referrals and professional services beyond the scope of the EAP are the employees’ responsibility. Prior to outside referrals, EAP representatives and employees may collaborate to discuss costs of treatment vs. coverage with health insurance plans in hopes to find a solution that works with their financial situation.
The employer should be aware of the cost of contracting a third-party vendor that provides EAPs; however, data suggest that these programs provide a 300% return on investment.
How do employers benefit from providing EAP to their workers?
Issues surrounding an employee’s home life can directly impact the individual’s work performance. Employees face a multitude of life situations or challenges that potentially impact organizational success and employee performance. Employee productivity, cognition, and attendance are impacted by personal or work-related circumstances resulting in poor performance, engagement, absenteeism, retraining costs, and work-related injuries.
Employer-sponsored EAPs address:
- Improvement to performance, productivity in an effort to decrease absenteeism, employee turnover, and lost time, and to reduce retraining and replacement costs.
- Promote employee engagement by fostering communication between supervisors and employees to aid in workplace stress, challenges, accommodations.
- Prevent work-related injuries by eliminating safety risks and improving safety culture and communication, and by increasing awareness around workplace violence and emergency preparedness.
Is involvement in an EAP required for my employment?
No, EAPs are strictly voluntary and usually offered via a third-party service providing resources that go beyond what can be addressed with supervisors, managers, or human resources.
What are services provided by EAPs?
EAPs provide referrals, confidential counseling, and assessments for a variety of issues. Examples include:
- Legal guidance and financial resources
- Family law
- Wills, trusts
- Debt resources, budgeting, bankruptcy
- Retirement planning
- Work-life balance
- Childcare, elder/dependent care
- Hiring movers
- Locating pet care
- Hiring repair contractors
- Work-related concerns, conflicts
- Consultation provided to supervisors, managers in resolving work-related, organizational needs
- Prevent or cope with workplace violence
- Health, wellness
- Assistance with illness, death, grief, or loss
- Life adjustments such as relocation, family structure changes, job loss
- Mental and emotional wellbeing; counseling and support for anxiety and depression
- Substance use/dependence
- Drugs, alcohol
- Group or individual counseling
- Long-term referral options
- Local resources
Employees interested in learning more about employee assistance programs should seek guidance from their benefits information, human resource representative, or supervisor.
Tess Taylor, “What is an Employee Assistance Program?,” The Balance Careers, September 27, 2020.
U.S. Office of Personnel Management, “Employee Assistance Programs: Overview.”
U.S. Office of Personnel Management, “Employee Assistance Programs: Guidance & Legislation.”
U.S. Office of Personnel Management, “Employee Assistance Programs: Frequently Asked Questions.”