We are looking forward to seeing you on Thursday, June 6th at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre for a discussion of current workplace and employee assistance topics. The program moderator will be Mike Stadter, Ph.D., one of Washington DC's top psychologists and organizational consultants. Click here for details of the program. To register, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A troubled employee can present a supervisor with problems that range from chronic lateness all the way up to suicidal or homicidal threats. Your company's Employee Assistance Program can be an invaluable asset in dealing with these situations, but there are a few considerations to be aware of before implementing the program.
First and foremost, the EAP shouldn't be used as a weapon. Mandating assistance with a threat of firing is not only bad policy, but it's also legally problematic. Attorneys have successfully argued that such actions can be interpreted as a perception of disability in their clients, and that therefore the employee is entitled to protections under the Americans With Disabilities Act. That can make termination difficult if it is ultimately necessary.
A mandatory referral is by its nature coercive, and coercion is seldom useful in changing behavior. It is far more productive for EAP referrals to be voluntary. In that way, the employer can make clear the behavior that needs modification and the employee can avoid disciplinary actions. Both parties get the best protection in that case.
When that kind of agreement can't be reached, a formal referral should be the employer's last resort, and it should be done in consultation with HR, your EAP---and the legal department if warranted. A formal referral should be in writing and part of a series of steps to document problematic behavior. It should specify that there are no sanctions for non-compliance. (An exception is a referral from a supervisor as a result of a positive drug or alcohol test and would apply to employees covered under Department of Transportation guidelines.) It should also spell out the specific work issues to be addressed.The action steps are as follows:
• The supervisor documents the employee's poor work performance or unacceptable conduct;
• The supervisor meets with the employee;
• The supervisor offers the EAP and explains the need for a release of information. An employee's use of the EAP however remains voluntary;
• The supervisor completes the Supervisory Referral Form and telephones the EAP in preparation for a referral;
• The employee contacts the EAP and requests an appointment;
• The EAP counselor addresses the work-related problem and discusses personal problems that may require counseling or treatment;
• The EAP counselor reports limited status information to management or HR, such as whether the employee kept an appointment, whether a plan has been developed to improve the performance issue, and most importantly, whether the employee is following through with the plan. Additional information to management requires the signed permission of the employee---except for emergency situations.
Focusing on the deficiencies and not personality offers the best chance of bringing about a successful resolution and not running afoul of the law.
If you have questions about the referral process in general, or would like to discuss a particular challenge, contact your EAP professional.