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Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are employee benefit programs offered by many employers. EAPs are intended to help employees deal with personal problems that might adversely impact their work performance, health, and well-being. EAPs generally include short-term counseling and referral services for employees and their household members.
Employees and their household members may use EAPs to help manage issues in their personal lives. EAP counselors typically provide assessment, support, and referrals to additional resources such as counselors for a limited number of program-paid counseling sessions. The issues for which EAPs provide support vary, but examples include:
An EAP's services are usually free to the employee and their household members, having been pre-paid by the employer. In most cases, an employer contracts with a third-party company to manage its EAP. Some of these companies rely upon other vendors or contracted employees for specialized services to supplement their own services, such as: financial advisors, attorneys, travel agents, elder/child care specialists, and the like.
Confidentiality is maintained in accordance with privacy laws and ethical standards.
California requires EAP providers who deliver actual counseling services on a pre-paid (or capitated) basis for more than 3 sessions within any six-month period to have a Knox-Keene license. This is a specialty license for psychological services and is mandated by the Knox-Keene Health Care Service Plan Act of 1975. The state's Department of Managed Health Care regulates these licensed plans and assists consumers with regard to grievances, access to quality care, and ensuring that the EAP has an appropriate level of tangible net equity to deliver services to plan members. Title 28, Rule 1300.43.14 of the California Code of Regulations allows EAPs without a Knox-Keene license to request an exemption if they solely refer callers to external services and do not provide the actual services themselves.
Some studies indicate that offering EAPs may result in various benefits for employers, including lower medical costs, reduced turnover and absenteeism, and higher employee productivity. Critics of these studies question the scientific validity of their findings, noting small sample sizes, lack of experimental control groups, and lack of standardized measures as primary concerns. Proponents, however, argue that the consistency of positive findings across studies in different service sectors denote at least some positive effect of programs, even if the most effective components of such programs have not been determined. EAPs may also provide other services to employers, such as supervisory consultations, support to troubled work teams, training and education programs, and critical incident services.
The provision of employee assistance services has established business benefits, including increased productivity of employees (termed "presenteeism") and decreased absenteeism.
Employee assistance programs have been criticized for their lack of impartiality in cases where an employee seeks assistance due to work-related issues, or where an employer recommends that an employee seek help through the program. Programs where EAP providers are employed by the same company as the program participants are particularly criticized as being another arm of company management.
Most employee assistance programs date back to the 1960s and 1970s as in-house alcoholism programs that formally recognized a recovering alcoholic executive's Alcoholics Anonymous 12th Step work. San Francisco Bay Area companies with such programs include Standard Oil and Bechtel Corporation. In the early to mid-1970s such programs expanded their focus to include emotional, family and drug-addiction problems, and hired more broadly-trained counselors to provide short-term counseling and referral to outside resources. San Francisco Bay Area companies who started broadbased programs during this period include Pacific Gas & Electric Company and Wells Fargo Bank. The shift from in-house to external programs began in the late 1970s - early 1980s timeframe as acceptance of the value of EAPs grew and concerns developed over confidentiality and privacy.
Professional associations in the employee assistance program industry: