The Golden Hour: When Time is Critical

Helping the Helper-Employee Assistance Programs

CarolinaFireJournal - Joe Woodall
Joe Woodall
08/07/2015 -

I was fortunate early in my career to work as a part-time counselor-therapist for a reputable Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that served many cities, towns and county entities. I spent eight years working part-time at the EAP while continuing my career fire position as a ladder company captain. It is my hope that this experience with EAPs will assist the emergency services community in better understanding the EAP process.


Employee Assistance Programs have been referred to as specific type programs or comprehensive programs. The specific programs focus on one issue, such as alcoholism, that can interfere with the employee functioning on and off the job. Comprehensive programs offer a variety of assistance for a wider range of employee problems. Quite often the emergency service provider’s primary needs for assistance will be accompanied by other underlying problems also requiring support and counseling.

Comprehensive programs can address a wide range of issues pertaining to the health and well being of active emergency responders and their families. The scope of problems dealt with in an EAP may include areas such as alcohol and/or drug addictions, stress, marital concerns, family/child issues, emotional, legal, financial problems and grief counseling. As EAPs have become more diversified, employee issues including medical concerns, infectious diseases, career/vocational concerns, gambling addictions, veterans affairs, and critical incident stress management programs (CISM) have come under their umbrella.  Comprehensive EAPs may also focus on health promotion and education through the development of wellness programs.

Assessment and Referral

The emergency services agency is able to self-refer to the EAP serving the organization. This service is generally covered by the employee’s medical insurance, or as is the case in some agencies, a specified contracted EAP provider. The EAP staff normally conducts the initial assessment during one or more personal interviews. During the assessment interview, the EAP counselor will gather appropriate demographic, social, psychological, medical and work history from the individual. Based on the results of the assessment interview(s), the EAP counselor may make a recommendation for additional evaluations, EAP intervention, and/or services provided by professionals in the community. The decision to accept the recommendations of the EAP counselor remains with the individual. In the event of a mandatory supervisor referral, the supervisor will be informed if the individual complies with the recommendations of the EAP counselor or refused such recommendations. The confidentiality of client information must be maintained at the highest standards as guided by law and professional ethics.

The EAP’s primary role is one of assessment/referral, short-term intervention as appropriate, and serving as a consultant on work related concerns of supervisors. The EAP office will have and maintain an index of community resources. Where possible, an EAP staff member will conduct an in-person interview with the provider prior to using the provider as a referral resource.

Supervisory Referrals

In cases in which personal difficulties interfere with the employee’s job performance or create work site problems to the extent that disciplinary action is considered appropriate, the emergency services manager may wish to initiate a supervisory referral to the EAP. Performance issues include, but are not limited to, excessive absenteeism, repeated tardiness or reduction in quality or quantity of work.

In the case of a supervisory referral, as with a self-referral, all information concerning the individual and his/her participation in the program will remain confidential. It is recognized that it is not the role of the supervisor to diagnose or resolve the employee’s personal problems. However, it is the responsibility of the supervisor to be explicit about an employee’s job performance expectations, to document accurately any deviations from these expectations and to take appropriate disciplinary action in the event the employee’s job performance fails to meet acceptable standards. The supervisory referral to the EAP is an additional asset which allows the supervisor to assist troubled employees with their problems, thus helping the agency in retaining their qualified personnel.

The agency administration should assure the emergency services provider that the use of the EAP will not impact job security or promotion. The use of the EAP will not alter standard administrative practices applicable to job performance requirements. Any documentation, placed by the supervisor in the employee’s personnel record, should relate solely to job performance and should not include any reference to the individual’s suspected personal problems. Supervisors should limit any documentation regarding the EAP to the fact that the services of the EAP were offered to the individual as a means of helping them deal with a concern.  All information released by the EAP office is guided by state and federal laws relating to confidentiality. If a supervisor or other source refers an employee to the EAP, only that information authorized by the employee will be released.

The mission of the EAP is to contribute to a healthier work environment by assisting individuals with personal problems and by consulting with supervisors — when the employee is formally referred to the EAP by the emergency services manager — on individual and group concerns. The utilization of EAP services is meeting less and less resistance in the workplace and the EMS manager should advocate and support the emergency services provider to pursue this valuable and helpful service.

Emergency Services
Supervisors Need to Know

  • The role of the EAP in your agency.
  • The steps and procedures for making a supervisory referral.

Questions the Emergency Services Supervisor Should Ask

  • Who is our EAP provider?
  • What specific services does our EAP provide?
  • How do employees access the EAP?
  • Are those I supervise familiar with this benefit?

For Additional Information

Dr. Joe Woodall is now the program chair for the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College Fire Protection Technology program. Over the years he has maintained his North Carolina Licensed Professional Counselor status and occasionally works as and consults in the areas of counseling, crisis counseling, and emergency services mental health issues. Those needing related information can contact him at [email protected]
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