Making Referrals to the EAP – Part 1 of 2

Why Refer an Employee to the EAP?

Dealing with performance problems may be one of the most common and challenging aspects of a supervisor or manager’s job.  Your employee assistance program can partner with you to help employees cope with some of the more trying twists and turns of life that can impact work performance.  The EAP can provide employees with encouragement and guidance during difficult situations and can assist them in resolving minor issues before they become major problems.  The EAP can help employees address serious concerns through a customized course of treatment to get their lives back on track.      

There may be variations in structure, procedures, paperwork and terminology among employee assistance programs, but the following gives a general overview of the EAP referral process.  Contact your employee assistance program for details on how the process works for your organization. 

Types of EAP Referrals

There are two types of referrals to the employee assistance program. The first type is a Self-Referral whereby an employee or the eligible family member of an employee contacts the EAP by telephone or online to make an appointment for counseling.  The individual has a concern and seeks help through the company’s employee assistance program benefit.  This, of course, presumes the employer has done a thorough job of promoting the EAP, making information readily available and encouraging employees to use the services.

Sometimes a supervisor, human resource representative or other member of the management team may recommend the EAP to employees who have confided in them about personal issues they or their family members are having.  Personal issues may include divorce, grief resulting from the loss of a loved one, family or relationship challenges, substance abuse, financial stressors or health concerns. There is no paperwork involved and no information is revealed regarding an individual’s access of the EAP.  Services are completely confidential and are at no cost to the employee or family member for the allotted EAP visits.

The second type is a Management Referral, sometimes called a Mandatory Referral, whereby a supervisor, a human resources representative or other member of the management team refers an employee to the EAP for help in improving workplace performance. A management referral is not meant to be punitive but is intended to support the employee while providing a means to resolve issues that are negatively impacting the employee’s job performance and perhaps putting the individual’s continued employment at risk.  Confidentiality is maintained within the scope of those participants involved in the process, with information limited to the “need to know.”   Conversations between the employee and the counselor are privileged.

An employee’s EAP visits may be used for a Management Referral.  If there are insufficient visits available, the employee or counselor should contact the EAP to see if additional visits might be allocated.  If not, the employee will incur a cost, which may be rolled into health insurance, for the visits needed to complete the referral program.  Costs may also apply in certain situations such as intensive outpatient (IOP) programs and inpatient treatment.  These services are not covered by the EAP but may be covered in part by health insurance.

There are three types of management referrals:

Informal – Non-Disciplinary Management Referral

An informal – non-disciplinary referral occurs when a supervisor, human resource representative or other member of the management team becomes aware of an employee experiencing workplace performance problems.  This may be manifested by absenteeism, tardiness, ‘presenteeism’, shoddy workmanship, poor attitude, safety mishaps and so on.  Often, this referral is preceded by verbal and written warnings given to the employee. 

Formal-Disciplinary Management Referral

A formal - disciplinary referral takes place when an employee demonstrates a continuous decline in performance, often but not always, after an informal-non-disciplinary referral has been unsuccessful.  The employee who has violated corporate policies or who is creating a safety risk is also a candidate for a formal-disciplinary referral.  Formal referrals are part of an organization’s corrective action process.  

Fitness-For-Duty Referral

A psychological fitness-for-duty referral is made when there is serious concern about an individual’s ability to safely perform his or her essential job functions.  The concern results from (1) objective evidence that the employee may be unable to safely or effectively perform a defined job and (2) a reasonable basis for believing that the cause may be attributable to a psychological condition or impairment.

The employer’s human resources representative contacts the EAP which acts as a neutral third party to arrange a Fitness-for-Duty Evaluation with a psychologist or psychiatrist experienced in occupational evaluations. The evaluation includes an assessment of the individual’s level of risk of harm to self or to others. A determination is made regarding the employee's ability/readiness to perform essential job functions with reasonable skill, safety and judgment.  It is useful for the employer to provide the evaluator with a written copy of the employee’s job description.

The EAP plays no role in either the “fitness” determination or the information reported back to the employer.  Fees for the Fitness-for-Duty evaluation are not covered through the EAP and are the responsibility of the employer.  Some costs may be covered through the employee’s medical plan.