Employee assistance programs provide employees with support when they need it - from helping them through relationship difficulties to coordinating treatment for substance abuse. And while 69% of employers offer EAPs through external organizations, the potential still exists for them to be caught in legal entanglements. What are employers' potential liabilities and what can advisers do to help them mitigate risks?

First, let's look at EAPs from the employees' perspective. Assistance may be desperately needed, but getting help through the EAP could expose sensitive personal information. "I think the biggest risk is definitely an invasion of privacy claim," says Brian Hassan, managing director of San Francisco-based BayPoint Benefits. "It's when an employee is worried that the employer is going to find out information about them that they shouldn't." This fear may stop employees from seeking much-needed help, they may be concerned about how widely their information is shared, and they may assume it will negatively impact their job.

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