These days the term “Employee Benefits” has taken on a whole new meaning. It wasn’t that long ago when most employer’s benefits package consisted of only health insurance and a retirement savings accounts, such as an 401(k) or an IRA.
Nowadays, however, there is an abundance of increasingly popular benefit options employers are offering their employees - Wellness programs, Childcare benefits, Healthcare Spending Accounts (FSA, HRA, HSA), Tuition Reimbursement, Telemedicine, Flexible/Remote work options, even Pet insurance – the list goes on. One such benefit that has been gaining traction the last decade is Employee Assistance Programs, or EAPs. Even if your company doesn’t offer an EAP, there’s still a good chance you have heard of the term, even if you aren’t entirely sure what it an Employee Assistance Program is. Either way, worry not, in this post we’ll break down what exactly an EAP is and how it can be beneficial.
What is an Employee Assistance Program?
EAPs are an employee benefit program that was designed to assist employees with personal and/or work-related issues that might impact their job performance or personal well-being. Traditionally, EAPs have assisted employees with substance abuse and mental conditions, however their utilization has since expanded to an array of different issues such as financial problems, legal problems, relationship challenges, and even child or elder care. In general, the role of an EAP is to offer confidential assessments, counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to assist with any of the formally mentioned issues that might be affecting a worker’s personal life or career.
Why offer an EAP?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depression is estimated to result in 200 million lost workdays, costing employers between $17 billion and $44 billion annually. Those estimates are just for depression alone and don’t even account for the other list of possible issues that EAPs are intended to assist with that could be negatively affecting an employee’s production. When billions of dollars in revenue is being lost every year, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that EAPs have become more popular in recent years. In fact, some studies have suggested that companies that have an EAP can save between $3 and $16 for every $1 spent, although those estimates have been disputed by some.
Another benefit to having an EAP is simply having an EAP. What do I mean by that? Well, when it comes to recruiting and retaining top talent, the benefit package a company offers can play a major factor in a candidate or an employee’s decision on their employment options. Not only is it another desired benefit being added to the overall benefit package a company offers, it also conveys the perception that the company cares about the well-being of their employees. It shows that they are willing to help their employees who are experiencing mental issues or other problems in their life first, instead of just parting ways with an employee. The bottom-line is that EAPs are low cost added benefit that helps address a much larger problem that continues to affect the US workforce and they have proven to have both applicable and theorical positive benefits for companies that offer them.
What to Look for When Choosing an EAP
As with most employee benefits, all EAPs are not created equal. Much like trying the find the best health insurance for your employees, finding the right Employee Assistance Program can be a tricky task. Here are some things to consider.
Aside from the confidentiality protections of HIPAA, there wouldn’t appear to be many, if any, compliance risks associated with offering an EAP. There is, however, a very common compliance mistake that occurs routinely when it comes to EAPs. That’s right, you guessed it – COBRA continuation. Perhaps it’s the in the name, Employee Assistance Program, that causes the misperception that an EAPs don’t need to be offered on COBRA, but that is usually not the case. If the only function of the EAP is a referral service, then it would not need to be offered under COBRA, but as long as it meets the definition of a group health plan that the employer maintains or supports and which provides some type of medical care, then it is indeed subject to COBRA.