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Health Insurance Basics

Employee Assistance Program 101

November 13, 2020

Maintaining work/life balance is difficult in the best of times. But this year brought a slew of new, unanticipated challenges. These include worries about job security, childcare, and many other personal concerns.

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) could be a major benefit to you during these situations. An EAP is a benefit that employers can offer alongside their healthcare plan to assist you and your family with a wide variety of services. It exists to provide you with tools and resources to manage issues causing fatigue, stress, and depression.

Employers find return on investment in offering an EAP because stress and personal issues can affect job performance and well-being. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, in 2003 U.S. companies lost more than $31 billion due to low productivity related to depression. And many studies have shown rising rates of depression since then.

EAPs are a voluntary benefit that employers can choose to offer, but many large companies do so. It is getting more popular for smaller companies as well. The International Employee Assistance Professionals Association states that 75 percent of companies with more than 250 employees offer some kind of EAP. That percentage grows to 97 percent for companies with more than 5,000 employees.

Not all EAPs offer the same services, so you may want to ask during your open enrollment this year for more information. If your company has already held open enrollment, you should be able to ask your human resources colleagues at any time.

Types of services can include:

Counseling for both personal and work-related issues, including:

  • conflicts with coworkers,
  • anger management,
  • anxiety,
  • depression,
  • and grief or loss.

Resources and referrals for:

  • childcare,
  • elder/adult care,
  • pet care, and
  • housing.

Financial or legal resources for:

  • planning,
  • retirement,
  • reducing debt,
  • divorce,
  • custody,
  • or a host of other situations.

Help for and access to:

  • wellness classes,
  • weight management,
  • substance abuse, etc.

If your employer offers an EAP, you do not need to ask for permission to use the services. You can use it to access free, confidential, immediate help. Let us look at each of these advantages individually.

Initial services and referrals provided through the EAP are free of charge to employees and, in most instances, their families. If you are in need of further services or long-term counseling, you may want to ask about extra costs or ask for in-network providers (if applicable). Employers do not typically cover costs associated with external referrals.

EAPs, while paid for by your employer, are administered through a third party. What that means for you is that any service you access voluntarily remains confidential. Employers may receive reports to show use, but names and specific services are not included.

You can rest assured that your supervisor or others will not have access to your comments or files. There is an exception to this policy – if you have been required or mandated to counseling through your EAP due to behavioral issues at work. In this instance, your supervisor will likely receive a report noting whether you have or have not completed sessions. (Specific information from those sessions is still confidential.)

Because many issues do not align well with working hours, most EAPs are available 24/7/365. You should have information on how to access your EAP from your employer. Most have a toll-free phone number, a website, or an app.

EAPs are useful for short-term problem resolution and for finding resources to save you time. Try to take advantage of this benefit if you have access to one.