What is an Employee Assistance Program?

An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is exactly what it sounds like: a program an employer offers to help employees address personal problems that might be preventing them from contributing fully at work.

While employers would like employees to leave all external matters at the door when they clock in for the day, that isn’t a reality. It’s not unusual for workers to find themselves preoccupied by private concerns while on the job, which can slow them down and even cause errors.

EAPs offer information, referrals and counseling that’s confidential and free of charge for employees. EAPs help address common personal issues ranging from mental health to marital or financial problems, and services often extend the employees’ immediate family.

How employee assistance programs can be used

EAPs are open to all employees for use. They are especially targeted at employees who might be overloaded with stress from personal issues that are causing them to perform below company standards. However, EAPs sometimes offer consulting on everyday stress-relief and wellness, also.

EAPs often encompass a degree of training for company supervisors or others at the management level so they can recognize issues in employees and intervene with a referral.

The following are some of the challenges and issues EAP counseling services can address:

  • Illness and injury
  • Stress management
  • Marriage and family concerns
  • Personal finance or legal troubles
  • Alcohol or substance abuse and addiction
  • Child and elder care referrals
  • Wellness and nutrition

Why offer an EAP?

eap stressed employee
Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash


Employers stand to gain most when employees perform to their highest potential and contribute their maximum to the success of the company. Distracting emotional concerns can prove costly to a company, leading to higher rates of absenteeism, accidents, grievances and even workers compensation claims.

The goal of an Employee Assistance Program is to give employees tools and resources to better manage their personal and emotional lives so that they are less distracted on the job, and have more energy to devote to work. High-stress issues for which EAP services can come in handy are those that can’t always be addressed by the healthcare system, such as adoption, elder care challenges, job-related conflicts, depression, substance issues, and money matters.

The 2018 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Employee Benefits Research Report revealed that 78 percent of employers now offer an EAP. If troubled employees can benefit from EAP services, they will feel better and perform better, creating a win-win for worker and employer.

Cost of Employee Assistance Programs

While there are exceptions, EAPs are usually provided through third parties rather than in house by the company, to protect the employees’ confidentiality and guard against employer retaliation. In fact, SHRM says EAPs are the most outsourced HR function, with 62% of HR departments reporting they outsource their EAPs.

In the last decade employers have paid around $12 to $40 per employee annually for an EAP, according to The Balance Careers. While that is far from free, EAP prices were stabilizing in 2019. The Employee Assistance Program Association reports that for every dollar an employer spends on an EAP, there’s an ROI of $3 or more.

How employee assistance programs are administered

Employers who offer EAPs are required to comply with related employment laws and are responsible for communicating information about the EAP to their employees. EAPs typically provide literature and posters and send web links to help educate employees on the benefits offered, and many EAPs will also send a representative to your office for an information session.

EAPs can be administered a few different ways, such as:

  • Management-sponsored EAPs. These are usually offered exclusively by large companies, and feature counselors who are on staff at the company and available on site.
  • Fixed-fee and fee-for-service contracts. Employers contract for counseling services, referrals and management training and pay by employee number with fixed-fee contracts, or they contract for services and pay by services used with fee-for-service contracts.
  • Member assistance and peer assistance programs. Often sponsored by unions, member assistance programs offer services such as prevention, problem identification and counseling for members and their families. Peer assistance programs train peers to offer support for troubled employees, within predetermined limits, and are provided by unions or employers.

EAP benefits are generally not subject to COBRA and ACA guidelines unless they provide direct medically related support, such as mental health counseling or treatment for alcoholism/substance abuse.

Critical requirements for EAPs

The Employee Assistant Program Association (EAPA) lays out comprehensive rules and standards that organizations are expected to adhere to when launching EAPs. These EAP requirements can act as guidelines as employers venture to create in-house EAPs or as they begin looking at vendors.

EAPA says that an employer should create a written EAP policy defining the scope and limitations of their EAP and also establish in writing the confidentiality of the program. Some other standards for all EAPs include:

  • 24-hour, 7-day crisis intervention availability
  • services provided by trained professionals who maintain their skills
  • the ability to add onto existing EAP services
  • procedures for determining when further intervention is needed

Role of Human Resources

Even when an employer outsources an EAP, the HR team is typically tasked with determining the employer’s EAP needs, choosing the vendor, managing the relationship and tracking results. HR usually puts the EAP policies and guidelines in place, arranges for any supervisor training, and communicates with employees about what EAP services are being offered.

Is an EAP right for your company? 

According to the EAPA, every organization should try to match the EAP with the style of their business and the makeup of their workforce. For example, are workers likely to use an EAP that provides literature via a gated website and involves remote telephone or internet counseling, or would they be more favorable to printed pamphlets and counselors they could meet in person? Would they want on-site or off-site counseling?

When choosing an EAP service provider, HR teams are wise to consider years of service and references by employers with similar workforces as well as service hour and scope, counselors’ professional credentials, followup practices and referral capabilities.

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EAPs are no substitute for a competitive benefits offering, but they can help organizations keep their workforce performing at a higher level. Arcoro can answer your questions about how to take a more efficient, automated approach to managing all of your benefits offerings when you contact us today.