Did you know you can access free professional and confidential help for issues that may affect your performance at work? An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a voluntary, confidential program that helps employees (including management) work through various life challenges that may adversely affect job performance, health, and personal well-being. The goal is to extend an organization's success.
EAP services include assessments, counseling, and referrals for additional services for employees with personal and work-related concerns. This includes mental health issues (such as depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder), stress, financial issues, legal issues, family problems (such as domestic abuse), office conflicts, and alcohol and substance abuse.
EAPs also often work with management and supervisors to provide advanced planning for organizational changes, restructuring, emergency planning etc.
How EAPs Developed
EAPs within the Federal government originally began as occupational alcohol programs to address the negative impact of alcohol abuse on productivity and organizational performance.
The focus of these programs expanded as organizations recognized that alcohol was not the only issue affecting employees at work. Current EAPs address a wide range of issues, such as workplace conflicts, family matters, financial challenges, and mental health.
Private EAP firms began to offer EAP services via contracts to employers in the 1970s. Today, it’s common to see companies contract for specific outside services (for instance, a professional who has experience in counseling individuals with a disability).
Why EAPs Are Important Today
EAPs are now widely in place in the private and public sectors of today’s job market because they help employers to:
Improve productivity and employee engagement.
Develop employee ability to manage workplace stress.
Reduce workplace absenteeism.
Support employees during workforce restructuring and reduction in forces.
Reduce the likelihood of workplace violence or other safety risks.
Support disaster and emergency preparedness.
Reduce employee turnover and related replacement costs.
When EAP is Not Appropriate
Here are situations in which an EAP intervention is not appropriate because other approaches can be more effective:
· Career Development – You may believe you lack skills in delegation, for instance, and need help in that regard. But, that’s not an EAP concern. It’s a training need that you and your supervisor can address during your periodic performance reviews as part of your personal career development.
· Orientation – Your employer may have a mentoring program which is designed to better meet your needs as a new employee for learning about how to fit into the organization’s corporate culture. Orientation and mentoring are not EAP functions.
· Grievances – If you have a personal grievance, you need to bring it up with your immediate supervisor. The next step is your union steward, if you’re represented by a labor union. But, EAPs are not to be used to address grievances. A broader grievance (such as inaccessible company social functions) could be an appropriate topic or project for your company’s disability affinity group.
· Accommodations – Gaining accommodations is a responsibility shared by you, your supervisor and other departments (such as Human Resources or Information Technology).
EAPs and Disability
Situations in which an employer may mandate the use of an employee assistance program (EAP) are rare. The Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) in its Standards and Professional Guidelines says:
“Employees may voluntarily seek EAP assistance, or they may be referred to the EAP through constructive confrontation. Job security will not be jeopardized as a consequence of seeking or using EAP services, except where mandated by law. However, employees who use an EAP are expected to adhere to the job performance requirements of the organization.”
Employers often provide information about EAP services to employees when there are performance issues or when the employee has disclosed to the employer that he or she is having difficulty dealing with personal issues.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a mandatory EAP referral could be interpreted that the employer perceives an employee to have a disability, even if he or she does not. Taking action, such as termination, against an employee who refuses the EAP referral or does not comply with treatment may result in claims of disability discrimination based on a “perceived” disability.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has affirmed that “the employer may not force the individual with a disability to choose between treatment or EAP participation and discipline in situations where other employees would not be disciplined.”
For example, an employer may refer a group of co-workers who are having problems getting along at work for assistance with interpersonal skills. However, the employer should not single out an individual for such referral because he or she has or is perceived as having a disability that is interfering with his or her ability to get along with co-workers.
More common are “formal” referrals to an EAP in which the employer provides a written referral for the employee based on specific work-related issues. A formal referral is not mandatory and does not result in disciplinary action for noncompliance.
How to Use EAP Effectively as an Employee with a Disability: An Example
Let’s agree that an employer needs to focus on job performance according to established performance and conduct standards.
Your supervisor has noted (and you tend to agree) that you appear to lack the self-confidence and assertiveness needed to do well in your job as a customer service rep. She recommends using the company’s EAP to obtain counseling from a qualified professional with a disability background.
You soon discover through your counseling sessions that you have not personally addressed memories (both positive and negative) about what your family members and others have repeated during your childhood about disability in general and your situation as an individual with a disability specifically.
Those messages have stuck with you all these years, and while they may been well-intentioned, they have distorted how you see yourself.
Through a couple of months of counseling, you are able to rewrite your past (addressing those inaccurate messages) and make your own roadmap based on new, more accurate thinking about yourself.
That new roadmap helps. Your supervisor comments about your new self-confidence at work during your next job performance review.
Used appropriately, an EAP can be a win-win-win for employees, supervisors and organizations.
Copyright © 2016. Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC. All rights reserved.
Jim Hasse (www.jimhasse.com), Global Career Development Facilitator, has compiled and edited the recommendations of HR experts and the personal observations of both jobseekers and hiring managers into Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities (www.perfectlyable.com/), a comprehensive disability recruitment guidebook for hiring managers published by AMACOM (September 2010), the publishing arm of the American Management Association. He’s the founder of www.cerebral-palsy-career-builders.com, a comprehensive career coaching guide for parents of youngsters with cerebral palsy, and owner of Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC, which develops win-win direct mail fundraisers for champions of disability employment.