Most mid-sized or larger organizations partner with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as part of their broader employee benefit package. These EAP providers deliver a wide array of services, ranging from a brief, high-level assessment of work-related problems to counseling, legal aid, and access to community-based resources that help the employee find a healthy work-life balance. When it comes to preventing workplace violence, EAPs can also act as an early intervention measure. Whether an employee is seeking help for legal, financial, health or mental health concerns, employee assistance program managers should be equipped to recognize the early signs of workplace violence in the same way as do other threat assessment team members.

Four Ways Employees and EAP Providers Initiate Services

Connecting with the EAP provider can happen several ways:

  1. The employee can self-refer without the employer’s knowledge.
  2. A supervisor can make an informal referral when, for example, situational stressors appear to be contributing to a reduction in overall job performance.
  3. A supervisor can make a formal referral for the employee who is not able to meet the organization’s minimal standards of conduct.
  4. The employer can give the employee a mandatory referral, typically if discipline or termination of the employee is imminent.

In most cases in which we are retained to conduct a Direct Violence Risk Evaluation, the organization has already referred the employee to EAP. Approximately half of those have attended at least one session before seeing me for the evaluation. Of these, most benefit from this intervention and proceed to engage in longer-term care, primarily psychotherapy, to address personal problems or substance abuse.

Early Intervention Requires Dismantling Barriers

The other half who do not seek EAP services often explain that they are hesitant to share their personal problems with others, believing they can manage the concern independently and may view mental health intervention as a sign of personal weakness. It is important to note here that some employees may not be receptive to talk-therapy or psychiatric medication management. This can be a result of past negative experiences with one or both and, in other cases, may go against their core values, beliefs or culture.  Sometimes the employee is in denial that their reported behaviors were negatively affecting themselves, their coworkers or their job performance.  This is common in individuals I evaluate who present with poor insight, paranoia, or symptoms of a delusional disorder.

There is little debate on the benefits these services can provide for both the employee and the employer.  In most cases, the employee finds some relief from the suite of services provided and can better manage their behaviors at work. It has been my experience that most employees I am asked to evaluate had significant problems in their personal life that spill into their professional duties. In many of these cases, the employee has enough insight to realize that their behavior is negatively affecting them and others, prompting them to move in the direction of seeking professional assistance to remedy their specific issue.

Employee Assistance Programs Are Single Piece in the Prevention Puzzle

In some instances, the EAP provider may issue documentation back to the organization that suggests that the employee is “fit to return to work” or is “not considered a risk for workplace violence.”  Caution is warranted as most EAP professionals are not considered subject-matter experts with respect to either opinion. When organizations receive this type of feedback they should consider whether the employee would benefit from a formal or mandated referral for either a Psychological Fitness for Duty or a Direct Violence Risk Evaluation. Doing so will help clarify the risks – to the employee themselves as well others in the workplace – and help the organization manage and mitigate the potential for workplace violence.

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