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A Manager's Guide to the EAP

December 10, 2000
Related Topics: Featured Article
Here are some common questions managers have about emmployee assistance programs.

Q:When is it appropriate to referemployees to the EAP?

A:There are really two different kinds of referral situations, one where theemployee does not have a job performance problem, and the second, where theemployee’s job performance has deteriorated.

In the first instance, the supervisortypically learns directly from the employee that he or she has a personalproblem, such as a marital or other relationship conflict, a problem with an outof control adolescent, illness or a death in the family, a childcare oreldercare issue or some other significant personal concern. The supervisorexplains that the EAP is a free, confidential, professional counseling serviceto address a wide range of individual and family problems. This is known as an"informal" referral. The supervisor’s involvement with the processends here.

In the second instance, the supervisortakes the initiative to recommend the EAP to the employee, based on declining orerratic job performance. This is known as a "formal" referral. Not alljob performance problems call for an EAP referral. Supervisors should consider aformal referral when the employee fails to respond to the standard coaching anddisciplinary process.

There may also be a more extremesituation, such as an employee showing up with the odor of alcohol or makingbizarre statements in the workplace that suggest a substance abuse problem or aserious mental health issue. Here, timely referral to the EAP is crucial.


Q:Should the supervisor contact the EAP before making a referral?

A:When there are job performance problems, the supervisor should consult with theEAP prior to meeting with the employee. There are several reasons for apre-referral consultation:

  • The supervisor may be concernedabout how to deal with an employee who typically gets angry when confrontedor tearful or defensive. The EAP can provide useful guidance on how to stayon track and manage a difficult or manipulative person.
  • The EAP can help the supervisordecide if this is the right time to make a referral. Sometimes, a betterstrategy is clarifying job performance expectations and potentialdisciplinary consequences and waiting to see how the employee responds.
  • If it looks like an EAP referral isappropriate, then it is imperative that the EAP know why the referral isbeing made. Employees often minimize or deny job performance issues whenthey meet with the EAP. The EAP needs to know the details of the jobperformance problem in order to help the employee recognize what changes areneeded.
  • If the employee has a substanceabuse problem, he or she will be extremely reluctant to acknowledge this toanyone, including the EAP. A qualified EAP professional has the training toidentify the signs and symptoms of alcoholism or drug abuse and to help theemployee recognize the need for professional treatment. It is critical thatthe supervisor convey information about absenteeism, changes in appearanceor grooming, emotional instability, memory lapses, agitation or lethargy andother for the EAP to make an accurate problem assessment.
  • Contacting the EAP prior to thereferral opens the door for the EAP to subsequently confirm that theemployee followed through. While most EAPs require the employee’s consentto speak with the supervisor, employees who accept an EAP referral recognizethat it is their best interest that the supervisor knows that contact wasmade.


Q:How should the supervisor make a formal referral?

A:The supervisor should follow this sequence:

  • First, document the employee’sabsenteeism, errors, late assignments and arguments with co-workers or otherwork discrepancies and problematic workplace behaviors. Remember, if youdidn’t document it, it didn’t happen!
  • Meet with the employee in privatewith the documentation in front of you and explain that the purpose for themeeting is to discuss the employee’s job performance.
  • Ask for an explanation of the jobperformance or behavioral issues. Sometimes, there are quite legitimateexplanations for changes in behavior and job performance having to do withmedical problems or other circumstances that the supervisor was not awareof.
  • Clearly state the employee’sstatus regarding the company’s disciplinary process and what theconsequences will be if there is no improvement in job performance.
  • Tell the employee, "I’mreferring you to the EAP. Your use of the EAP is confidential. You will needto authorize the EAP to confirm with me that you made contact. That is allthey will tell me, unless you give them permission to share moreinformation. Your use of the EAP is voluntary, but your improving your jobperformance is mandatory for you to avoid discipline and possibly losingyour job. I strongly recommend that you follow-through."
  • Never diagnose the employee’sproblem. You can tell the employee, "You have come back from lunchthree times this month with the odor of alcohol on your breath, slurringyour words and unable to finish your work on time." Under nocircumstances should you say to the employee, "I think you’re analcoholic."


Q:What else should supervisors and managers know about EAP referrals?

A:While specifics vary from company to company, additional information isavailable from the following sources:

  • Most companies have developedspecific policies around job-performance related EAP referrals that are partof corporate and human resources policy manuals. If your company does nothave a written EAP policy, samples are available from the EmployeeAssistance Professionals Association, and you can get assistance indeveloping policies from your EAP vendor or from a consultant whospecializes in EAPs.
  • Most EAPs provide a specified numberof hours of training for supervisors and managers as part of the EAPcontract. In today’s fiercely competitive marketplace, employers oftenfind it difficult to take supervisors off their jobs for EAP training.Supervisory referrals provide the best means to identify and help the 15% ofthe workforce whose job performance problems may be tied to alcoholism, drugabuse, depression or other serious personal problems. Three decades of EAPresearch has shown that EAP utilization is strongly correlated with EAPvisibility in the workplace.
  • All EAPs do not handle formalsupervisory referrals in the same way. Contact your vendor account managerand ask for procedural guidelines around job performance referrals. If youfeel that your EAP vendor has too many procedural roadblocks for supervisoryreferrals, compare your experience with other HR professionals or speak withan EAP consultant about alternative ways to structure the EAP process.

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