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Work-Life 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 abuse.  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 alcohol abuse and alcoholism have 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 drug abuse problems 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 substance abuse problems.

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 substance abuse 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.

Laws and policies that affect EAP Confidentiality

  1. Confidentiality regulations related to alcohol and drug abuse patient records (42 CFR Part 2)
  2. Privacy Act
    Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA)
  3. State laws, especially covering child and elder abuse reporting
  4. Professional association standards and codes of ethics
  5. Your agency's policies and procedures (critical)

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 Abuse

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

Mental disorders are common in the United States, and in a given year approximately a quarter of adults are diagnosable for one or more disorders.

Workplace Mental Health Programs

Mental health is an important issue in the workplace. It is a state of well-being in which an individual achieves his or her own potential, copes effectively with the normal challenges of life, and is able to work more efficiently and productively. To support Federal efforts, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and U.S. Department of Health & Human Service’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration released a memorandum to Heads of Executive Department and Agencies, highlighting the importance of ensuring the workforce has access to the appropriate resources. The memorandum also included fact sheets for supervisors and employees. The fact sheets highlight key resources to increase awareness and access to services when needed. Below are links to the memorandum and fact sheets.

Since Employee Assistance Program (EAP) personnel are involved in the initial assessment of conditions and treatment referrals, they play a vital role in achieving healthy outcomes for Federal employees and their families. There are a number of strategies agencies can pursue to support employees' mental health:

  • Promoting greater awareness of and through th EAP
  • Holding depression recognition screenings
  • Placing confidential self-rating sheets in common areas
  • Training supervisors in depression recognition
  • Safeguarding confidentiality of employee health information
  • Supporting employees who seek treatment or who require hospitalization and disability leave, including planning for return to work and flexible work schedules
  • Educating employees on mental health benefits available through the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program

Reducing the Stigma of Seeking Help

An essential role of Federal agency Work/Life and EAP coordinators involves reducing the stigma associated with mental illness. You may have an excellent EAP program; however, the stigma associated with mental health treatment may be great enough to discourage your agency's employees from seeking assistance. Nearly two-thirds of all people with diagnosable mental disorders do not seek treatment.

Messages that may be Helpful in a Media Campaign on Mental Health

  • Mental illnesses affect almost every family in America.
  • People with mental illnesses 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 help.
  • You can make a difference in the way people see mental illnesses and mental health if you:
    • Learn and share the facts about mental health and about people with mental illnesses, especially if you hear or read something that isn't true;
    • Treat people with mental illnesses with respect and dignity;
    • Support the development of community resources for people with mental illnesses and their friends and family; and
    • Respect the rights of people with mental illnesses 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 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 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 addiction
  • Substance abuse
  • 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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