Employee and Family Assistance Programs

May 4, 2017

Employee Assistance Programs can be an accessible way for members to get short-term help. While some unions leave supervision of EAPs to the employer, there are advantages to being more proactive and bargaining better EAP services.

Key provisions to consider: 

  • Who is covered by the EAP? Many programs cover family members as well as workers—including university students at school in other provinces.
  • How many appointments are members entitled to? What is the maximum per issue? Is there a yearly maximum? Can this be increased if needed? Try to bargain more visits for members to be able to exceed the maximum in some circumstances.
  • What kind of counsellors are available and what are their credentials? Psychologists? Social workers? Therapists with a Masters of Counselling? All of these providers may offer different kinds and levels of treatment and support. Unions should check what types of counsellors are available, what kinds of support they can provide, and if that support is the most helpful to members.

Other related considerations:

  • A related issue is the expertise of the EAP counsellors. Are they equipped to deal with specific needs and conditions, such as eating disorders and anxiety disorders? Do they offer culturally appropriate perspectives? Do they have training in mental health for children and seniors, and in family mental health dynamics? What happens if the member needs more specific help than the EAP counsellor can provide?
  • Some EAPs offer online or phone sessions. In-person appointments are generally preferable for members with mental illness. They will also need paid time off to attend appointments.
  • Unions need to ensure the EAP process is completely confidential and run by an experienced outside third party.
  • EAPs are confidential. But confidentiality can be compromised if there is only a very limited number of counsellors available for a workplace or site. Make sure members have access to a range of counsellors.

Unions and employers should get regular generic statistics about EAP usage in order to improve the service over time. Generic statistics would include things like number of visits, without identifying individuals who took advantage of the program.