Guidance for Managers & Supervisors:
When and How Do I Refer to the EAP?


Employee Assistance Philosophy
Your employees are valuable assets. You and your organization have made significant investments in recruiting and training the best available people to work with you. Obviously your organization has a commitment to the health and well being of your employees. When life stressors affect welfare and work, employers and employees can turn to the Employee Assistance Program.

The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is provided to all managers, supervisors, and employees. Dependent family members may also use the program. The EAP is designed to help identify the specific needs of employees and to assist them and their families in seeking sources of support.

The Program
The Employee Assistance Program provides services to employees who have problems occurring in their personal lives that are impacting their effectiveness on the job. The goal of the EAP is to restore the employee’s sense of well being and increase work production. The following guide is intended to prepare supervisors to respond appropriately to employees in need of assistance. Confidentiality is strictly maintained. Participation in the EAP is not recorded in the employee’s personnel file.

Program Goals

  • To provide assistance to employees whose personal or health problems may be interfering with the quality of their life at work.
  • To motivate those individuals to seek and accept appropriate help.
  • To restore the employee's sense of well being and to improve job performance.
  • To protect the dignity of the individual by maintaining confidentiality.
  • To retain valuable employees.

A Resource for the Manager/Supervisor
As a manager or supervisor, you may have at some time noticed that personal problems have interfered with an employee’s performance. The signals might have included increasing absenteeism, accidents and errors, or a variety of other behaviors. Marital or family problems, parenting concerns, alcoholism, or drug abuse may be at the heart of these problems on the job.

The Employee Assistance Program is a resource you can offer these employees to help them work toward solving their problems in a confidential manner. The following guidelines help managers and supervisors recognize warning signs of behavior and provide suggestions for dealing with them. Also included are the procedures to follow in making a referral or encouraging employees to utilize the support available to them.

Managers or supervisors should not use employee assistance services as a form of discipline. Rather, the program is designed as a benefit to be made available to employees who need assistance.

Please contact one of our EAP consultants at 800.326.3864 if you have any questions about the EAP or the referral process.


Your Role
As a responsible and caring supervisor, it is your job to provide every reasonable assistance to help the employee carry out his or her responsibilities.


  1. Be aware of warning signals and be responsive to—or in some instances initiate—a discussion that leads to an EAP referral.
  2. Maintain strict confidentiality in order to respect the employee’s rights and self-worth.
  3. Communicate the philosophy, goals, and procedures of the Employee Assistance Program outlined in these guidelines.
  4. Encourage the employee to seek help through the EAP as an option for resolving problems affecting performance.
  5. Ensure that the employee’s promotional or other opportunities are not compromised by participation in the program.

Not in Your Role
Although you may wish to do so, a supervisor should not attempt to solve the employee’s problems.

Other cautions are:

  1. Avoid attempting to diagnose the problem.
  2. Do not act as the employee’s counselor.
  3. Refrain from conducting lengthy, in-depth discussions of the problem.

Do not use the EAP as a substitute for the disciplinary process; use the appropriate steps when discipline is required.

Early Warning Signs

When people are troubled or concerned, their behavior usually changes. Work patterns are usually altered and/or job performance may decline. Occasional incidents of poor job performance do not necessarily mean that there is a serious problem. One way to assess more serious problems is to note how often and how severe the employee’s job impairment becomes.

The sooner a pattern is identified, the more quickly an employee’s well being and capabilities can be restored. Remember, however, that an employee does not have to display substandard performance before referral to the Employee Assistance Program.

When a number of the performance patterns described below begin to appear, a problem may exist. As a supervisor, you should document these occurrences. Your observations will provide specific feedback during a discussion with the employee that may lead to an EAP referral. The problem may result from a variety of family concerns or from a form of substance abuse. As previously described, the EAP will identify the specific need and resources available for help.

Behavioral Patterns of Deteriorating Job Performance
The following may be examples of early warning signs:

Absence from Work
Although absences vary with each individual, these patterns may indicate a problem:

  • Unauthorized or excessive absences.
  • Monday and/or Friday absences or the same day every week.
  • Excessive tardiness, especially on Monday mornings or in returning from lunch.
  • Leaving work early.
  • Unusual and increasingly improbable excuses for absences.
  • Frequent minor illnesses.

Absence On-The-Job

  • Lengthy and/or frequent absences from work station.
  • Returning late from rest or meal periods.

Loss of interest

  • Decline in concern for productivity requirements.
  • Lack of responsiveness to organizational concerns and needs.
  • Decline in participation in organizational activities.
  • Withdrawal from interacting with or assisting co-workers or other members of the department or unit.

Confusion or Difficulty in Concentration

  • Work requires unusual effort and is done with increased frustration.
  • Jobs take more time.
  • Unusual difficulty in recalling instructions and details.

Spasmodic Work Patterns

  • Includes patterns of very high productivity followed by very low productivity.
  • Coming to work or returning to work in an obviously abnormal condition.

Lowered Job Efficiency/Quality

  • Frequently fails to complete work assignments on time.
  • Excessive waste of materials and supplies.
  • A pattern of deteriorating decision-making.
  • Frequent complaints from co-workers.
  • Improbable excuses for poor job performance.

High Accident Rate and Resulting Accident Claims

  • Frequent accidents on the job.
  • Repeated accidents off the job that affect job performance.

Friction with Co-Workers and Supervisor

  • Overreacts to real or imagined criticism.
  • Has wide swings in moods.
  • Frequently borrows money from co-workers without repaying.
  • Begins to avoid associates.
  • Unreasonable resentments, argumentativeness, and other exaggerated behavior.

Difficulty in Making Changes

  • An irrational, panic-like response to making changes.

Poor Performance as a Supervisor

  • Uncharacteristic neglect of supervisory duties.
  • Begins to issue contradictory instructions to employees.
  • Frequently uses employees’ time and skills to cover responsibilities clearly within the supervisor’s job description.
  • Repeatedly submits incomplete reports and data.
  • Increasingly unable to concentrate or manage complex administrative details.
  • Frequent loss of temper.

Physical Symptoms Suggestive of Substance Abuse
In addition to the behavioral symptoms described above, the following should be used to alert the manager/supervisor that a substance abuse problem may exist:

  • Shakiness and/or tremulousness.
  • Physical agitation or hyperactivity.
  • Drowsiness; slurred speech.
  • Enlarged or constricted pupils; red eyes.
  • Physical clumsiness, stumbling or unsteady gait.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Fainting or blackouts.
  • Sudden decrease or increase in energy level and stamina.
  • Changed reaction time.

Barriers to Referral

Supervisors are sometimes reluctant to refer troubled employees to the EAP. There are various reasons why this reluctance exists. They include:

Supervisors may be torn between using—and not using—the program. Involved here, among other things, is the appearance of a “witch hunt.” As one supervisor has said, “No one wants to report an employee. It’s like branding someone.” Despite assurances to the contrary, supervisors may harbor the lingering fear that referral of the employee to the program will “ruin him/her with the organization.” Also, often the reasons for referring someone to the EAP are embarrassing to discuss (unless the supervisor sticks to job performance). Added up, it is easier to absorb, tolerate, and live with the employee’s problem than do anything about it.

Sometimes supervisors may deny that the employee has a personal problem affecting job performance. This may be reflected by statements such as: “She’s a good performer when she comes to work.” “Lately, he argues with everyone—but he gets the work done.”

Good Worker
Supervisors may feel a need to “protect” the individual because the person has been, or still is, a good worker. Also, supervisors feel they might somehow lose the “good worker” if they refer the problem to the EAP. Both attitudes are unrealistic.

Misguided Sense of Responsibility
Some supervisors feel a responsibility to handle and correct the problem themselves—that referral to the EAP is somehow an admission of their own failure. Rather, supervisors should ask themselves: “How much responsibility for possible dollar loss am I willing to assume and what are my human responsibilities for a seriously ill employee under my jurisdiction?”

Guilt feelings occur when a supervisor thinks he or she may have handled the situation incorrectly, may be incapable of handling it, or particularly when the supervisor has lost his/her temper with the employee. Guilt may cause avoidance of dealing with the situation.

Reluctance to Confront
It is not unusual for people to prefer to avoid confronting an unpleasant situation. An employee with a sensitive problem may be among the most difficult to deal with.

Fear of Losing Control
Some supervisors may fear losing control of actions through anger during a stressful discussion.

Ego Involvement
Ego involvement between supervisors and employees occurs when the supervisor feels that the employee has been molded in his/her own image, sees the employee’s successes and failures as his/her own, and wants to solve the problem personally rather than request consultation and professional assistance.

Supervisor’s Own Substance Use
The general subject of chemical addiction may pose a real threat to a supervisor if he/she abuses drugs or alcohol. This tends to create an unrecognized hostility toward the EAP. To confront the using employee is to confront his/her own anxiety and guilt about his/her own substance use. In cases where the supervisor actually has a problem, referrals are practically nonexistent.

The Referral Process

Employee Referral
Either the employee or the supervisor may initiate a contact with an EAP counselor. If an employee wishes to make the contact, he or she may do so simply by calling the EAP office and securing an appointment.

Steps in the Supervisor Referral Process

  1. The supervisor identifies and documents early warning signs—the changing behavior patterns that may affect job performance.
  2. The supervisor initiates a discussion with the employee. (Some issues to be aware of are described in the section “The Referral Discussion: Do’s and Don’ts for Managers and Supervisors.”)
  3. When the discussion identifies personal problems that may include marital or other family difficulties, financial concerns, substance abuse, or other areas of emotional stress, the supervisor advises the employee about the EAP.
  4. The supervisor makes a referral to the EAP—communicating to the EAP counselor the specific reasons for referral (changing behavior patterns and/or job performance issues). This communication is a crucial part of the referral process.
  5. The employee takes the responsibility for contacting and scheduling an appointment with the EAP counselor within one week, and informs the supervisor of action taken.
  6. The EAP counseling session takes place. When the employee meets with an EAP counselor, the counselor will assist the employee in developing an action plan to resolve the situation and inform him or her about available resources.

Upon receipt of the employee’s signed consent, the EAP counselor will notify the supervisor 1) that the employee received, or is involved in an assessment and 2) that the employee is or is not following the recommended plan of action to resolve the problem. The nature of the problem and the specifics of the action plan will not be discussed with the supervisor.

The Referral Discussion: Do’s and Don’ts for Managers and Supervisors

To Prepare, Do:

  • Establish and communicate standards of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behavior on the part of employees whom you supervise. This will ensure consistency and fairness in your actions with all employees.
  • Remember that it is your responsibility as a caring and professional supervisor to intervene and take supportive action when the situation indicates.
  • Be sure that you have gathered all the facts surrounding the problem. Accurately document incidents that will provide clear feedback, including occurrences, dates, times, and other key information.
  • Familiarize yourself with the EAP so that you can make or encourage a referral with confidence and understanding of how the program can be of assistance to employees. Call the EAP counselor if you have any questions or need further clarification about how the program works. If you have knowledge of and confidence in the program, the employee is more likely to participate.

During the Discussion, Do:

  • Take the attitude that you are concerned about the employee.
  • Communicate to the employee that he or she is a valuable, contributing member of the organization. Also express your concern about what is happening.
  • Make these key points in the discussion:
    • Reinforce that you personally care about the employee.
    • Express your desire to help the employee succeed by offering assistance before the situation deteriorates.
    • Describe specific instances of what has occurred to raise concerns.
    • Communicate your sincere desire to help the employee by providing him or her with information about the EAP. Strongly encourage the employee to use the EAP as a means to help resolve any problems he or she may be having.
    • Reinforce the fact that the EAP is available on a confidential, professional basis and that the employee can make the contact or you can make the contact for him or her if so desired.

Some Don’ts to Help Avoid the Most Common Mistakes:

  • Do not conduct a discussion about an employee’s personal concerns or behavior unless instances have occurred on the job and/or the problems are directly impacting the employee’s well-being and effectiveness at work. Remember, it is not the intent of the EAP to interfere in an employee’s personal life.
  • Don’t try to diagnose the problem. That is the role of the EAP counselor with the employee. Limit your evaluation to determining that a declining work situation exists.
  • Don’t allow your own personal reactions to interfere with objectivity. This includes your own anger or sympathy for the person, or even avoidance on your part in confronting a problem.
  • Avoid being misled by excuses, denial, defensiveness, or sympathy-evoking behavior on the part of the employee. Direct the discussion to specific examples of unacceptable behavior/performance.
  • Avoid the temptation to “cover up” for an employee who may be a long-time employee or even a personal friend. A misguided “kindness” can lead to serious delay in real help reaching the person who needs it.

For more information, please Contact Us. When contacting FHA via email, please note that email correspondence is not confidential. You may want to contact FHA by phone at 800-326-3864 to discuss specific problems.