“Free” employee assistance programs have become more and more prevalent. EAPs are often included as part of other core services such as health insurance, disability carriers and even payroll companies. These providers and the employers and benefit brokers they market to rationalize “why not throw in a free EAP?” However, as a consumer of employee benefits, employers must understand what they are getting. First of all, nothing is really free- the cost of the EAP services are covered by the carrier and as a result, often the cost is embedded and passed onto the purchaser of these services. Second, do you know who your provider is and just what you are getting?
Ron Holman wrote an article titled “Free Employee Assistance Programs, You Get What You Pay For” in the California Broker back in 2003 as free EAP’s were just emerging. It appears as though “free” is here to stay. However, many of these providers offer very little. Holman wrote “When a company chooses to offer its employees a “Free” EAP, they may not be invested in who utilizes the plan since they are not paying for the EAP. However, one very important quality of the EAP is the ability to detect any patterns within the employee population regarding drug and alcohol use, personal problems, legal or financial problems and issues with childcare and eldercare and to identify any necessary assistance…. Because many “free EAPs” do not provide employers with utilization reports, company executives are not able to understand their employee’s needs.”
The more employees use the EAP, the more it costs the provider. Therefore most free EAPs are not motivated to promote and provide awareness of the program because it costs them. As a result, some employers don’t even know the name of their EAP company and rarely use it. Usually on site services, critical incident debriefing, management consultation and management referrals and case management are either not provided or rarely used. All of these services are essential elements of a high quallity EAP which are also required under the “Standards and Guidelines for EAPs” according to the Employee Assistance Professionals Association.
Employee assistance programs that are offered as stand alone services are far more beneficial to employers. Many companies change their insurance providers frequently based on the most favorable rates they can obtain. If the EAP is included, it too will have to change which can be confusing and may discourage use by employees. If cases are managed for a long time then they will need to be transferred mid-stream to another provider that is unfamiliar with the case, which can be especially problematic for positive drug tests, management referrals and complex cases.
As an employer, you should be looking for a locally based EAP provider; one that knows the treatment facilities, the community resources and the nuances of your company. Your EAP provider should be able to assist you with the specific needs of your company and have regular contact with you. It should be able to provide trainings, management consultation, critical incident debriefings, assist with management referrals and drug testing policies. It should provide yearly utilization reports and assist you in promoting and increasing, rather than avoiding utilization of the program.
If you have a free EAP or one that is not meeting your needs, it may be time to evaluate what you need now. For more information contact Fully Effective Employees at 425-557-0907.