An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is an employee benefit program that can assist employees with issues that affect their health, mental, and emotional well-being. EAPs were created in the 1970’s to help those in the workforce who were struggling with substance abuse and intoxication issues at work. Since then, they’ve evolved into programs that can help employees with all aspects of their life, whether it be at work or not. This includes but is not limited to marital problems, anxiety, addiction, depression, anger management, physical illness, childcare, eldercare, financial counseling, grief assistance, workplace conflict, and more. EAPs are entirely separate from medical and behavioral health benefits, meaning you can utilize your EAP before using your other health benefits. The best part about EAPs is they’re no cost to employees! While not all companies have employee assistance programs, if your employer offers one it’s important to know that it is complementary and does not require out-of-pocket expenses on your behalf.
This sounds all fine and dandy, but the real issue with EAPs is that no one is using them. In 2017, utilization rates for EAPs in North America were at less than 7 percent. This leads to the question: why? Apparently, it’s because of these three factors.
Office culture prevents individuals from feeling like it’s appropriate to use their EAP. Many individuals claim that it can feel shameful, uncomfortable, and stressful to use their EAP because they’re fearful of their coworkers finding out. If this is the case for you, you may be able to avoid this by finding a healthcare provider through your EAP who is offsite, or not in close proximity to your office. This way, you won’t be running into coworkers when you’re seeking counseling. To address the issue from the root, you can ask your HR representative to create some initiatives that address EAP stigmas. You’re probably not the only individual who is hesitating to use their EAP because of an office stigma, so you’d be doing the whole office a favor!
Many individuals feel as though their job could be in jeopardy if they use their EAP to deal with issues like addiction or anger management. This will not be the case. Your EAP must be completely confidential, and the healthcare provider you choose to work with is bound to confidentiality by HIPAA.
Employees do not fully understand the process they need to go through to use their EAP (which is almost no process at all). Many assume they need to get approval from managers or HR reps to get access to services, which is not true. You can use your EAP whenever you’d like, and do not need permission from anyone to do so.
Since it’s clear there are a lot of misunderstandings about EAPs and their services, we’ve compiled a list of commonly asked questions for EAPs below. We hope this will encourage you to use your EAP and will give you the knowledge you need to feel confident about doing so.
Q: What services does my EAP offer?
A: In sum, EAPs cover work-life stressors and mental health issues. Your EAP may cover a variety of issues, and the best way to learn what yours covers specifically is to go to the website for your EAP. (Example: If my EAP was through Cigna, I would Google Search “Cigna EAP”, where the first result Cigna’s EAP Member Resources webpage.) You can also ask your HR representative for more resources if you feel comfortable doing so.
Q: Is my EAP really confidential?
A: Yes. Your EAP has to to be confidential. Since your EAP allows you to self-refer to counseling services, they are required to be private and secure. There is no exchange of your personal information from your EAP provider to your employer.
Q: Is my EAP free?
A: In short, yes. Your EAP is a voluntary program that will offer you free assessments, counseling, referrals, and more. In some cases, your EAP benefits reset each year, so it’s important to look into your EAP specifically.
Q: Can using my EAP affect my job?
A: No, your employer will not receive access to your EAP records without your consent.
Q: Can my family use my EAP?
A: In most cases, yes. Usually all members of your household are eligible to use EAP services, but check with your HR representative or online to make sure that’s true for your specific EAP.