management referral

EAP Formal Management Referrals

As an employer, it can be difficult to know what to do when you suspect that an employee’s personal issues are interfering with job performance. Job performance includes attendance and availability, attitude and behavior, and quality of work. When internal performance improvement plans, or other supervisory interventions aren’t yielding any results or positive changes, it is likely time to make a formal management referral to the employee assistance program. This way, you are helping the employee to avail themselves of confidential EAP services should there be a more complex explanation for their change in behavior, or productivity. The logistics of formally referring someone to the EAP, overall, are rather simple. However, knowing when to refer the employee, communicating your decision to the employee that you are formally referring them to the EAP, and the on-going communication with the EAP regarding the employee’s compliance with EAP recommendations can be nuanced, layered, and sometimes confusing. We will delineate some of these items below, and hopefully clear some things up!

What exactly is a formal management referral?

A formal management referral is a referral that is made by Management and Human Resources to the EAP, due to an employee’s unsatisfactory job performance that persists despite intervention efforts made internally by management, HR, or both. This differs from a voluntary referral in that HR and Management are involved throughout the duration of the process. This includes from the time of the EAP intake until the time when all EAP recommendations have been fulfilled by the employee. Management and HR are kept informed by the EAP about level of compliance throughout the process, while all other details are strictly confidential. As an employer, your goal is two-fold: improve the health and wellness of your employee, and see a return to previous levels in job performance.

How do I know the right time to refer to the EAP?

When is the right time to make a formal management referral? Typically, as an HR professional or Manager, you may find that you sort of “know” when it is time. When all interventions have not worked, and you feel “at a loss”, it is time. However, if you ever are not sure, call the EAP and you and an EAP Professional can talk through it together. Be sure to document all efforts made to assist the employee, including performance improvement plans, disciplinary actions, or other relevant information. Also, be mindful of certain obstacles you may face when weighing your decision to refer.

Obstacles as Managers include the following:


  • A sense of betrayal
  • Fear of harming an employee’s reputation/harming an employee emotionally
  • Feelings of personal responsibility
  • Identification with their own personal issues
  • Fear of retaliation
  • Being aware of their own biases (i.e. thinking alcohol addiction is a matter of willpower)


“Stick to the Script!”


Referral Do’s:


  • Do make an attempt to persuade the employee to contact the EAP on a voluntary basis.
  • Do be sure that any referral to the EAP is based on job performance.
  • Do be specific when documenting and reviewing on-the-job problems with the employee.
  • Do stress confidentiality at every point.
  • Do explain that no one at the company will, at any time, have access to records of the EAP and that the program is administered by professional external contractors.
  • Do keep Human Resources informed.


Referral Don’ts:


  • Don’t diagnose anything other than job performance.
  • Don’t discuss drinking or drug abuse unless it occurs on the job.
  • Don’t be sidetracked by sympathy-evoking tactics or alibis.
  • Don’t “cover-up” for the employee, no matter how long-standing your relationship or how effective the employee may have been in the past. Your cover-up could accomplish nothing more than a serious delay of professional help.
  • Don’t discuss an employee’s referral with anyone except people in the EAP, the appropriate human resources representative, or those in the direct line of authority above you on a need to know basis.


Q & A about formal management referrals:


1. How to frame a formal referral to the employee as a manager.


Question: When an employee is referred to the EAP by a supervisor, if the employee truly believes they have no personal problem whatsoever, isn’t this the same as forcing the employee to participate? Isn’t this a problem for the EAP as a matter of ethics?*


Answer: As a matter of policy, EAPs are voluntary and established to help employees address personal problems that may affect job performance, and they serve as helpful and appropriate mechanisms to assist supervisors in managing troubled employees. Within this framework, a supervisor’s referral based on job performance, even if an employee says they have no personal problems, does not conflict with ethics or the EAP’s core technology (fundamental principles of operation). The classic example is the alcoholic in denial who attends the EAP after referral for performance problems then later is motivated to enter treatment based upon an assessment, motivational counseling, and evidence of the disease. Some employers may modify their policies to make participation in EAPs mandatory for certain infractions. However, even in such cases, referral is more akin to an accommodation with a disciplinary action held in abeyance, pending cooperation and follow-through with EAP recommendations.*


2. Remember to always communicate with HR and the EAP about employee compliance.


Question: My employee began participating in counseling following a formal supervisor referral to the
EAP. However, he just told me that he recently stopped attending sessions and asked that I not
say anything about it to the EAP. His performance is great, so now what?*


Answer: It appears that a conflict or disagreement exists between the EAP and your employee, and
you are being asked to join it. You’re not obligated to have a no communication pact that could undermine the EAP process, jeopardize productivity, or contribute to some behavioral risk. Curiously, you have not had communication from the EAP regarding noncompliance with its recommendations. So, in the interest of having good communication, ensuring continued satisfactory work performance, and acting in the best interests of the organization, you should speak with the EAP. Consider this: Would it also be proper to ignore what you’ve been told or to agree to it? After all, performance is great, and that is your key focus, right? The answer is no. Why? Because this situation originated as a formal supervisor referral, and you have an obligation to participate in good communication for the benefit of the organization. What’s more, you likely sense that cooperating with this request puts you in an untenable position of shared responsibility if something negative occurs.*

Even with the preceding information, it may still seem daunting to approach such sensitive issues with your employee. Remember, it is natural to feel that way. Furthermore, it is why you have an EAP. Your EAP has highly qualified licensed professionals for these matters. Care Plus Solutions’ staff averages 20 + years of EAP, HR, and business experience, as well as 20 + years of experience providing management consultations on various employee and policy related concerns. Call us anytime. We are happy to consult on any employee issue you may be facing.

Care Plus Solutions is America’s first EAP and is headquartered in New York and has offices in New Jersey. Over the course of the company’s 46 year history, their brand has remained firmly rooted in the rich history of the EAP field, never losing sight of the fundamental purpose of the EAP; delivering personal and quality services to those in need. It is fair to say that Care Plus Solutions is the gold standard in the field of Employee Assistance.


*Copyright ©2019 by DFA Publishing & Consulting, LLC.

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