Employee assistance programs are a popular component of an employer’s benefit package; one that benefit advisers can help make more effective by tailoring their client’s EAP toward industry-specific needs.

While EAPs have typically been thought of as call centers for employees with substance abuse or other employee counseling needs, such programs have evolved in recent times to include services such as on-site crisis counseling, financial counseling and even identity theft protection. But employee needs can vary from one industry to the next, and benefit advisers can offer a real value-add by working with employers to tailor their EAPs to include those services that meet the needs of their specific employee population.

For example, employees who work in high-stress jobs such as first responders or public safety positions may require more critical incident response counseling, whereas employees in more corporate settings may find personal financial issues to be their biggest stressor.

The benefits industry “has really advanced the level of services EAPs provide,” says Zachary Meyer, senior vice president for wellbeing and EAP/work-life services at Optum Health, an information and technology-enabled health services business and part of the UnitedHealth Group.

Seattle-based Wellspring says that unlike “off-the-shelf EAPs,” it partners with its clients “to offer tailored solutions as opposed to pre-packaged options.”

ESI Employee Assistance Group, for example, offers industry-specific EAPs for employers in education, public safety and health care. A health care EAP may offer training services for employees on how to deal with health care violence or dealing with patient and family challenges. An EAP for educators may offer resources and tools for educators on how to deal with bullying or classroom management.

“In terms of the EAP benefits we provide, the scope and the breadth of services we bring to market don’t change from a benefit standpoint from industry to industry, but how much of a particular service an employer purchases and how they promote their EAP, and which services they use most really does change quite a bit,” says Meyer.

For example, he says, retail stores and banks, in which employees may deal with high instances of robberies, tend to have EAPs that focus on providing critical incidence response services.

Regulation compliance

Meyer says in many cases EAPs are also working with employers to comply with industry-specific state and federal regulations. For example, the 1991 Omnibus Transportation Safety Act requires that all employers who have employees working in “safety sensitive” jobs to provide substance abuse testing and substance abuse training programs for any employees or managers who engage in safety sensitive work.

“If somebody presents either in the worksite or calls us with issues related to substance abuse or is posing a risk to themselves or others, we need to respond and comply with regulations required either at the federal level or even at the state level relative to duty to warn,” says Meyer.

At the state level, he says, “there is an incredible amount of variance on requirements around duty to warn where somebody is threatening harm to themselves or others,” he says.

Some states don’t require EAPs to disclose such information and break confidentiality, while other states mandate it, Meyer says, adding that EAPs can be integral in helping employers know all those different regulations and making sure their policies and procedures are in compliance them.

EAPs have been around for a long time and the breadth of services offered by EAPs, such as regulation compliance, is not typically understood by employers, Meyer says, and brokers and advisers can work with employers to understand the service offerings. 

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