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Employee Assistance Programs



Each Federal Executive Branch agency has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).  An EAP is a voluntary, confidential program that helps employees (including management) work through various life challenges that may adversely affect job performance, health, and personal well-being to optimize an organization's success.  EAP services include assessments, counseling, and referrals for additional services to employees with personal and/or work-related concerns, such as stress, financial issues, legal issues, family problems, office conflicts, and alcohol and substance use disorders.  EAPs also often work with management and supervisors providing advanced planning for situations, such as organizational changes, legal considerations, emergency planning, and response to unique traumatic events.

History of Federal EAPs

EAPs have a long history in the United States, tracing back to the 1940s. They originally began as occupational alcohol programs to address the negative impact that the misuse of alcohol has on productivity and organizational performance. The focus of these programs expanded as organizations recognized that alcohol was not the only issue affecting employees at work. Current EAPs address a wide range of issues, such as workplace conflicts, family matters, financial challenges, mental health, and so on.

In the 1970s, EAP-related legislation began to be passed, institutionalizing EAPs in Federal agencies. Review the Guidance & Legislation section for details on EAP laws, regulations, and Governmentwide initiatives. Another significant change to the EAP field in the 1970s was the formation of private EAP firms. These organizations began to offer EAP services via contracts to employers. As a result, Federal agencies can have one of four different EAP models: Internal, External, Hybrid, and Consortium. More recently, EAPs in Federal agencies have continued to expand their services and sustain their essential role. Many Federal EAPs now offer services for family members of employees.

Image is a visual representation of the History of EAP. The information is found in the paragraphs above.

Business Case for EAPs

OPM recommends agencies place a special emphasis on the EAP and the valuable role it plays by helping employees addressing issues that affect them at work, home, and in their communities. EAPs can reap benefits for agencies, employees, families, and communities by:

  • Improving productivity and employee engagement;
  • Improving employees’ and dependents’ abilities to successfully respond to challenges;
  • Developing employee and manager competencies in managing workplace stress;
  • Reducing workplace absenteeism and unplanned absences;
  • Supporting employees and managers during workforce restructuring, reduction-in-forces, or other workforce change events;
  • Reducing workplace accidents;
  • Reducing the likelihood of workplace violence or other safety risks;
  • Supporting disaster and emergency preparedness;
  • Managing the effect of disruptive incidents, such as workplace, injury, or other crises;
  • Facilitating safe, timely, and effective return-to-work for employees short-term and extended absences;
  • Reducing healthcare costs associated with stress, depression, and other mental health issues; and
  • Reducing employee turnover and related replacement costs.

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Guidance & Legislation

Several legislative initiatives have shaped guidance and implementation of Employee Assistance Programs in the Federal Government. The Office of Personnel Management is charged through these legislative initiatives to provide overall guidance to Federal agencies, creating baseline expectations for agency programs and helping agencies implement those programs as effectively as possible.

Guide to Administering Employee Assistance Programs

The Employee Health Services Handbook's Chapter on Administering Employee Assistance Programs, written in collaboration with the Department of Heatlh & Human Services, offers policy guidance to assist agency management and program administrators in implementing successful Employee Assistance Programs.

Agency Responsibilities

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) provides policy guidance and technical assistance to agencies in establishing and improving EAPs. In the development and implementation of EAPs, OPM works closely with the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Federal Occupational Health (FOH)  provides professional consultation and technical assistance to agencies in the development and oversight of EAP programs and delivers comprehensive EAP services to agencies through interagency agreements. Federal professionals monitor and evaluate the delivery of program services and provide quality assurance that employee and agency needs are being met. HHS' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides assistance to agencies on facilitating and extending programs for the prevention of drug abuse and for the treatment and rehabilitation of drug abusers. In terms of the Drug-Free Federal Workplace Program, SAMHSA is responsible for enforcing the Mandatory Guidelines on Drug Testing and coordinating the review of agency drug plans under E.O. 12564. SAMHSA also provides technical assistance to Federal agencies on drug testing, medical review, laboratory certification, and overall drug program implementation. SAMHSA compiles the Semi-Annual Report on Drug Testing.

Individual Federal Agencies Responsibilities 

  • Developing agency policy on EAP goals and training
  • Providing top management support and endorsement for EAPs
  • Determining the extent of services to be provided through the EAP and the methods for providing them
  • Negotiating or consulting with unions, as appropriate, on the provision of EAP services to bargaining unit employees
  • Publicizing the EAP through internal memos, newsletters, posters, etc.
  • Encouraging employee utilization of the EAP by making these services convenient and available to employees

EAP Legislation, Regulations, & Executive Orders

Title 5 U.S.C. 7901, Public Law 79-658 enables each agency to establish a health service program to promote and maintain the physical and mental fitness of employees.

Counseling programs for Federal civilian employees who have substance abuse problems are required by:

  • Sec. 201 of Public Law 91-616, 84 Stat. 1849, as amended and transferred to Sec. 520 of the Public Health Services Act by Sec. 2(b)(13) of Public Law 98-24 (42 U.S.C. §290dd-1),
  • Sec. 413 of Public Law 92-255, 88 Stat. 84, as amended and transferred to Sec. 525 of the Public Health Services Act by Sec. 2(b)(16)(a) of Public Law 96-24 (42 U.S.C. §290ee-1), and Sec. 7361 and Sec. 7362 of Public Law 99-570.

Public Law 99-570 (5 U.S.C. §§7361 and 7362), The Federal Employee Substance Abuse Education and Treatment Act of 1986, and title 5 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 792, requires Federal agencies to establish appropriate prevention, treatment, and rehabilitative programs and services for alcohol and substance use disorders for Federal civilian employees.

Public Laws 96-180 and 96-181 authorize your agency to extend counseling services, to the extent feasible, to family members of employees who have alcohol and drug problems, and to employees with family members who have a substance use disorder.

Public Law 79-658 authorizes the head of agency to establish health services programs for employees, also forms the basis for expanding counseling programs from those dealing solely with a substance use disorder to broad range programs which provide counseling for other personal problems, e.g. family, financial, marital, etc.

Executive Order 12564 requires your agency to establish a drug-free Federal workplace program, including an EAP as an essential element in achieving a drug-free workforce. Your agency must refer all employees found to use illegal drugs to the EAP for assessment, counseling, and referral for appropriate 'treatment or rehabilitation.

Federal EAPs: Guiding Principles, Frameworks, & Definitions

The Federal EAPs: Guiding Principles, Frameworks, and Definitions is the product of the 2008 Federal Employee Assistance Program Summit. Developed as a guide, rather than a requirement, for Federal EAP Administrators and other stakeholders, the information provided is based on participants' knowledge of best practices in the EAP field, as well as their own experience and understanding of EAP in Federal workplaces, and is intended to address the ways in which these programs can best meet mental and behavioral health needs of the Federal workforce.

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Confidentiality and the EAP

Every agency provides EAP services to its employees at no cost. These programs are staffed by certified counselors who are available to discuss problems in a confidential, helpful manner. To the extent permitted by law, except when maintaining confidentiality could compromise the security of the workplace or compromise an ongoing criminal investigation, it is important to maintain the confidentiality of an employee who discloses information. When information provided by a victim must be disclosed within and/or external to an agency (such as due to security reasons), an agency should limit the breadth and content of such disclosure to information reasonably necessary to protect the safety of the disclosing employee and others and to comply with the law. The agency should make every effort to provide advance notice to the employee who disclosed information about the fact that the information will be disclosed, with whom it will be disclosed, and why.

Laws and policies that affect EAP Confidentiality

  1. Confidentiality regulations related to alcohol and substance use patient records (42 CFR Part 2)
  2. The Privacy Act
  3. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA)
  4. State laws, especially covering child and elder abuse reporting
  5. Professional association standards and codes of ethics
  6. Individual agency policies and procedures should consistently reflect laws and regulations related to confidentiality.

Know Your EAP Participant Rights!

  • You have the right to be treated in a respectful manner when approaching the EAP for support.
  • You have the right to seek support from the EAP on a voluntary basis and to provide consent before receiving services.
  • You have the right to be supported in a confidential environment. With the exception of specific instances (see next bullet), information about your discussions with EAP representatives cannot be disclosed without your permission. There are regulations (42 CFR Part 2) that require confidentiality of alcohol and substance use records in particular, and they provide penalties for unlawful or unauthorized release of information. Those same regulations prohibit the implicit or negative disclosure of information from any kind of interaction with the EAP and, as such, agency EAPs may not release any information without a signed consent. We encourage you to contact your agency's EAP administrator for more information. To learn more, you can find contact information for your EAP administrator through our Agency POC Contact Tool. You may also wish to contact your local Human Resources office for more information about your agency's EAP.
  • You have the right to be informed that Under 42 CFR Part 2, any instances of suspected child abuse and neglect must be reported to appropriate State or local authorities. Also, when a client commits, or threatens to commit, a crime that would harm themselves or someone else, law enforcement personnel must be informed. If information is shared that points to a potential threat to national security, law enforcement personnel must be informed.
  • You have the right to confidentiality, regardless of your status within your agency. It doesn't matter if you are the head of the agency, a manager, or any other employee, everything will be kept confidential.
  • You have the right to refuse to sign a release of information regarding your involvement in the EAP. However, there may be instances where it will be in an employee's best interests to sign a release of information, e.g., when an employee is seeking accommodation for a certain physical or emotional problem. Another example might be when an employee is involved in a potential disciplinary situation and wishes to show management his or her sincerity in seeking assistance with the problem. Based on this information regarding an employee's involvement in the Employee Assistance Program, a supervisor may or may not decide to hold any disciplinary action in abeyance pending a positive change in the employee's performance or conduct. A final decision would be subject to supervisory and agency discretion.

Following are the most frequently asked questions about the confidentiality of EAP records. To find more FAQs on EAP and Work/Life, please visit to Work/Life FAQs.

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Substance Use Disorder

The use of illegal drugs by Federal employees, whether on or off the job, cannot be tolerated. Employees who use illegal drugs have three to four times more accidents while at work. Federal workers have a right to a safe and secure workplace, and all American citizens who depend on the work of the Federal government for their health, safety, and security have a right to a reliable and productive Federal workforce. In pursuit of this effort, the Office of Personnel Management in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services developed "Alcoholism in the Workplace: A Handbook for Supervisors" to foster a better awareness in supervisors, managers, and human resource personnel of issues surrounding alcohol abuse, especially as it relates to the Federal workforce.

Since 1986, the Federal government has mandated a comprehensive drug-free workplace program for all Federal Executive Branch workers. Executive Order 12564 (Drug-Free Federal Workplace, 1986) established a condition of employment for all Federal employees to refrain from using illegal drugs on or off-duty. This comprehensive approach includes the following five components:

  1. A statement of policy setting forth the agency's expectations regarding drug use and the action to be anticipated in response to identified drug use;
  2. Employee Assistance Programs emphasizing high level direction, education, counseling, referral to rehabilitation, and coordination with available community resources;
  3. Supervisory training to assist in identifying and addressing illegal drug use by agency employees;
  4. Provision for self-referrals as well as supervisory referrals to treatment with maximum respect for individual confidentiality consistent with safety and security issues; and
  5. Provision for identifying illegal drug users, including testing on a controlled and carefully monitored basis.

Another agency is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) which is a part of the Department of Health and Human Services. They provide excellent guidance on through their Division of Workplace Programs. In particular, SAMHSA has developed a Model Plan for a Comprehensive Drug-free Workplace Program which may be helpful to agencies as they implement and improve their programs.

Emergency Response

Launched in February 2003, Ready is a national public service advertising (PSA) campaign designed to educate and empower Americans to prepare for and respond to emergencies including natural and man-made disasters. The goal of the campaign is to get the public involved and ultimately to increase the level of basic preparedness across the nation.  We encourage Federal managers and employees to review the information available on Ready in preparation for and response to emergency situations.

The Involvement of Employee Assistance Programs

Emergencies, disasters, and other traumatic events are often unpredictable. They can strike anyone, anytime, and anywhere. You and your employees could be forced to respond to an emergencies when you least expect it. Familiarizing yourself with your agency's emergency action plan, as well as resources available to assist employees before, during and after an emergency, is helpful if you encounter an emergency situation.

After incidents, such as workplace assaults, unnatural deaths, and natural disasters, employees may experience a deterioration of job performance, personality change, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, co-worker conflicts, grief reactions, and depression. Each agency's Employee Assistance Program has professionals with expertise in helping employees, managers, and teams overcome these issues through developing techniques and plans for coping with stress, facilitating group debriefing sessions after traumatic events, identifying and referring employees to professional and community resources, and other recovery techniques.

Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault & Stalking

On April 18, 2012, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum regarding the review of policies addressing domestic violence in the federal workplace. The memo stated that despite considerable progress made since the initial passage of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, domestic violence remains a significant problem in our society. The memorandum specifically directs agencies to send any existing agency-specific policies and practices for addressing the effects of domestic violence in the workplace to OPM. Upon receipt and review of the policies and practices, OPM, in consultation with other agencies and experts in domestic violence, issued the Guide for Agency-Specific Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking Policies and the Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking Resource List.

Mental Health

The World Health Organization describes mental health as a state of well-being. Reflecting this perspective, The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) defines mental health as a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, works productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. OPM fully supports all Federal employees in reaching for and realizing the highest level of mental wellness. It is important that all employees, including leadership members, are aware of how Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) can play an important role in being mentally healthy.

Workplace Mental Health Programs

Mental health is an important issue in the workplace. OPM and U.S. Department of Health & Human Service’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration issued a memorandum to Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies to encourage agency leaders to build and maintain support work environments. The memorandum highlights the importance of employee awareness and access to appropriate resources. The memorandum also includes fact sheets to help supervisors and employees gain insights into mental health statistics and issues and learn what to do if they are concerned about someone. Below are links to the memorandum and fact sheets.

EAP personnel play a vital role in achieving healthy outcomes for Federal employees and their families. They are present to provide confidential, non-judgmental guidance and support. There are a number of ways agencies can effectively partner with EAP personnel to support employees' mental wellness:

  • Emphasize that EAP services cover a broad range of needs that can improve mental wellness for most employees.
  • Host information sessions where EAP services can be explained and highlighted.
  • Train supervisors on how to encourage EAP use for all staff members, and the services available to support their employees.
  • Train supervisors on when and how to directly refer an employee to the EAP.
  • Safeguard confidentiality of employee health information.
  • Educate employees on mental health benefits available through the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.
  • Hold depression recognition screenings.
  • Place confidential self-assessment sheets in common areas to assist employees in identifying areas of personal need.
  • Support employees who seek treatment or who require hospitalization and disability leave, including planning for return to work and flexible work schedules.

Reducing the Stigma of Seeking Help

An essential role of Federal Work-Life and EAP Coordinators involves reducing the stigma associated with seeking support around mental wellness. An agency may have an excellent EAP program; however, the stigma associated with mental health support may discourage employees from seeking assistance. Employees need to be reminded that everyone experiences stress, fatigue, and mental overload at times. Other employees experience ongoing challenges related to depression and other mental illnesses. Regardless of the level of mental wellness, the EAP can assist, support, and encourage employees to invest in their own mental well-being. This can only increase the chances that employees will show up to work every day able to focus and ready to be productive.

Messages on Maximizing Mental Wellness

Below are sample messages to help in a communications campaign to maximize mental wellness and reduce the stigma associated with mental health support. Agencies should tailor communications as appropriate for their workforce.

  • All employees need support around better managing daily responsibilities and life events
  • Whether support is needed around stress management, fatigue, substance use disorders, dealing with a traumatic life event, or any other issue that impacts one’s mental wellness, EAPs are there to provide assistance
  • People who deal with ongoing mental illnesses, such as persistent depression or anxiety make important contributions to our families and our communities
  • People with mental illnesses recover, often by working with mental health professionals and by using medications, self-help strategies, and community supports
  • Stigma and fear of discrimination are key barriers that keep many people from seeking support

You can make a difference in the way people see maximizing mental wellness if you:

  • Learn and share the facts about mental health, especially if you hear or read something that isn't true o Treat people dealing with mental health challenges with respect and dignity;
  • Support the development of community resources for employees and their friends and family
  • Respect the rights of employees and don't discriminate against them

For more information, we encourage you to review the Department of Health & Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Developing a Stigma Reduction Initiative

General Resources on Mental Health

Mental Health Guides

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration has developed several FREE, useful guides for professionals and the general public. Federal Work-Life Coordinators, EAP Administers, and employees are encouraged to utilize these materials when addressing issues regarding mental health.

Stress at Work

The National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health's Stress at Work (external link) website offers knowledge about the causes of stress at work and outlines steps that can be taken to prevent job stress.

National Institute of Mental Health

The National Institute of Mental Health (external link) is the lead Federal agency for research on mental and behavioral disorders. Here you can find a vast about of information regarding mental health, as well as current and past research initiatives.

Services for You

EAP Services

We all have a need to seek help and consultation at some point in our lives. Whether it's helping you to navigate life's transitions, find more satisfaction in your work, or maximize your physical and emotional wellbeing, the EAP is here to assist.

EAPs can offer a wide array of services. Each Federal agency determines what services to offer based on the needs of their agency and workforce. If you are interested in learning about EAP services available to you, contact your agency’s EAP Administrator. You can find your EAP Administrator by contacting your local HR office and/or searching OPM’s Work-Life Contact Tool. Below are some common services for individuals, managers, and agencies.

Individual Services

  • Interventions, including counseling, treatment planning, and short-term problem solving
  • Timely problem identification/assessment services
  • Employee referrals for diagnosis, treatment, and assistance
  • Case monitoring management and follow-up services
  • Crisis hotline
  • Education through in-person events, online resources, information materials, etc.
  • Collaboration with others, such as treatment facilities, managers, and HR staff
  • Fitness for duty evaluations
  • Assistance with back-to-work returns

Managerial Services

  • Management consultation and guidance on:
    • Supporting employees in need
    • Managing troubled employees
    • Enhancing the work environment
    • Improving job performance
    • Managing change affecting their team
    • Communicating more effectively with employees
    • Addressing conflict
  • Manager education on how to identify employees in need and refer employees to the EAPs
  • Assistance with back-to-work returns, including appropriate accommodations
  • Coaching for managers on essential leadership skills, such as communication, developing positive relationships, and more
  • Individual services for managers who are facing difficulties at work or home
  • Training and education (organizational assessment methods, communication techniques, change management, resilience, psychological and ergonomic tools, etc.)

Organizational Services

  • Violence prevention and crisis management
  • Traumatic and critical incident services
  • Group intervention and support groups
  • Educational services and programs
  • Special and auxiliary services (such as work-life, drug-free workplace training, outplacement services, disability management, etc.)
  • Coordination and integration with appropriate offices (such as disability, employee relations, health promotion, occupational health and safety, security, workers’ compensation, etc.)

How Can EAPs Be Used?

EAP services are free, voluntary, and confidential. These programs can help employees and managers address a broad and complex body of personal and workplace issues, such as:

  • Mental illness
  • Alcohol misuse
  • Substance disorder
  • Workplace conflicts, violence, and bullying
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Crisis management
  • Stress
  • Financial problems
  • Legal problems
  • Domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault
  • Workforce restructuring and reduction-in-forces

Many agencies offer services for employees and their families.

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