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Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are employee benefit programs offered by many employers, typically in conjunction with a health insurance plan. EAPs are intended to help employees deal with personal problems that might adversely impact their work performance, health, and well-being. EAPs generally include assessment, short-term counseling and referral services for employees and their household members.


Employees and their household members may use EAPs to help manage issues that could adversely impact their work and personal lives.EAP counselors typically provide assessment, support, and if needed, referrals to additional resources. These programs are becoming increasingly more common in today's worksites, and as the field grows, the responsibilities of employee assistance professionals are expanding as well. But many EAP experts have expressed deep concern over the numerous ethical and quality issues existing in the field today. The issues for which EAPs provide support vary, but examples include

  • substance abuse
  • safe working environment
  • emotional distress
  • major life events, including births, accidents and deaths
  • health care concerns
  • financial or legal concerns
  • family/personal relationship issues
  • work relationship issues
  • concerns about aging parents

An EAP's services are usually free to the employee or household member, having been pre-paid by the employer. In many cases, an employer contracts with a third-party company (such as BHS, Avante Behavioral HealthNew Directions Behavioral Health, Ease@Work,, Shepell.fgi, Magellan Health Services, VMC, CONCERN:EAP, CIGNA Behavioral Health, Ceridian,Back On Track-EAP, Perspectives, CuraLinc Healthcare or ComPsych, or internationally with companies such as Human Dynamic, PPC Worldwide or IPS Worldwide) to manage its EAP. Confidentiality is maintained in accordance with privacy laws and professional ethical standards. Employers usually do not know who is using their employee assistance programs, unless there are extenuating circumstances and the proper release forms have been signed. In some circumstances, an employee may be advised by management to seek EAP assistance due to job performance or behavioral problems. This practice has been thought to raise concerns for some, who believe that the EAP may place the employer's interests above the health and well-being of the employee. However, when done properly and with a highly qualified vendor, both the employer and the employee benefit. In fact, the goal of these supervisory referrals is to help the employee retain their job and get assistance for any problems or issues that may be impacting their performance. And, most importantly, any referrals for job performance issues or concerns are always confidential.

Not all states require such EAP providers to be licensed. As a result, the options for an employee who is dissatisfied with his or her EAP experience may be more limited than with a traditional health insurance provider. Some argue that more government oversight and greater involvement from consumer advocacy groups is essential to ensure employees receive fair treatment by EAP providers. California is one state that requires EAPs that are delivering 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 acts as a watchdog for the consumer with regard to grievances, access to quality care, and ensuring that the EAP plan 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 are just an assess and refer model, without delivering actual counseling services.


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 and morale. However, there is some dispute as to whether such studies are impartial and scientifically valid, particularly those studies performed by the EAP providers themselves. 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 broad array of services provided to employers by today's EAPs make a good business case for external programs. External EAPs can provide more than just psychological counseling through the integration of a host of "work/life" resources. These kinds of resources can help employees wrestling with the associated demands of starting a family, dealing with personal finances, legal problems or the stresses of being a working caregiver with aging parents. A full-service, integrated external EAP can provide all these services through one single, toll-free number that is accessible 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

External EAPs also provide the added benefit to employees of delivering confidential counseling services off-site, away from the eyes and ears of fellow workers, managers, or the Human Resources department. It needs to be noted, however, that EAP services are paid for by employers who then become the "clients" of the EAP company. A high-quality EAP will effectively communicate to employees that the organization is sponsoring the benefit but that it is confidential (within the scope of state and federal laws) and free to them. These EAPs maintain a strict adherence to the concept of serving two clients; the employer and the employee. If the employee improves as a result of the use of this benefit, then both the employer and the employee are winners--the employer has a good, highly motivated and high-performing employee and the employee gains assistance with a personal problem that was previously impacting their ability to focus on their job.

Most EAP companies are not regulated by state or local agencies, leaving both companies and clients with little recourse in the event that the EAP fails in some way. However, clients who feel mistreated may file a complaint with the relevant state agency against the individual therapist. This can be a no win situation for everyone, including the EAP company, which has a great deal to lose, including its reputation amongst employees who, if they mistrust it, will not use the program. Some states, like California, do regulate EAPs that deliver counseling services through the Department of Managed Health Care which also regulates HMOs, Vision and Dental plans. This oversight provides a grievance process for consumers that wish to register a complaint against licensed health plans.

There are many "free" EAPs out there who merely act as a "1 800" number and are not workplace specialists. These are usually large insurance carriers that bundle their "so called" EAP into a disability program and have very little visibility.


The Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) is the world’s largest, oldest, and most respected membership organization for employee assistance professionals. With nearly 5,000 members in over 30 countries around the globe, EAPA is the world’s most relied upon source of information and support for and about the employee assistance profession. EAPA publishes the Journal of Employee Assistance, hosts professional conferences and offers training and other resources to fulfill its mission.

EAPA’s mission is to promote the highest standards of EA practice and the continuing development of employee assistance professionals, programs and services.

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