Frontline Supervisor

This is an ongoing content series on the current EAN website. We have set it up again here so you can continue to use it (if you like.)

September 2021

September 9, 2021

Q. My employee was slightly injured in a water-skiing accident over the weekend. I hear it was pretty scary—a close call that could have been something worse. Reportedly, she was drunk when it happened. The employee is returning to work today, and there are no job issues. So I assume I can’t intervene or refer her to the EAP, right?

A. You will be engaging with your employee when she returns to work. It’s appropriate to ask how she’s doing and show concern since the incident is common knowledge. Having this conversation in private may lead to her disclosing alcohol’s role in the incident. You obviously can’t diagnose your employee, and this incident happened on personal time, but showing concern and empathy and not behaving judgmentally may facilitate a suggestion regarding the use of the EAP for an assessment. Close calls and near misses are windows of opportunity for those with alcohol or drug problems; they occur regularly as the disease progresses. Addicts and alcoholics make moves toward treatment at these times, but the motivation period is short. Your suggestion has a better chance of being accepted this close in time to the incident, but the key is to avoid enabling her by minimizing the incident. When persons with influence or leverage in an alcoholic’s life do not enable someone at these moments, follow-through that results in the person who needs it getting help often happens.

Q. I formally referred my employee to the EAP, but it was on the Friday before the employee took a two-week vacation. Should I have waited? And should I meet with the employee again when he returns, contact the EAP, or just expect that follow-through will happen? I formally referred my employee to the EAP, but it was on the Friday before the employee took a two-week vacation. Should I have waited? And should I meet with the employee again when he returns, contact the EAP, or just expect that follow-through will happen?  

A. You’ve made the formal referral, but in the interest of good communication and to ensure follow-through, meet with your employee upon his return from vacation and inquire about the status of the referral. Presumably, you had contact with the EAP in the process of making the referral, so you could also start by inquiring whether a release has been signed and confirming his participation. Generally, when a formal referral to an EAP is needed and appropriate, making it in a timely manner is important. True, your timing in this instance is not advantageous for follow-through, but you did the right thing, as waiting allows a potentially serious problem to get worse and increases risks to others and the organization. Also in this case, waiting a couple weeks could have allowed your own sense of the importance of the referral to diminish, which would also be just as problematic. Following up now to ensure follow-through takes place is what’s important here.

Q. Documenting an employee’s performance issues is sometimes difficult for me because I am a supervisor who addresses problems when I see them, gets a situation fixed, and then moves on. So, documentation seems unnecessary and a hassle. What am I missing?

A. Not every performance issue has to be documented. But there are risks associated with not creating documentation frequently enough. One risk is not developing an aptitude for knowing when something is important enough to be documented. Poor quality of documentation is another. Supervisors who don’t document effectively can also undermine the work of human resource managers who are attempting to execute job actions requiring written justification. Documentation is a learned skill. You can get rusty at it. A serious matter to which some supervisors fall victim is suddenly discovering the need for documentation that does not exist, prompting them to quickly attempt to produce it from memory. This is sometimes called “papering the file.” When documentation that should have been produced weeks, months, or years ago is suddenly generated for a disciplinary purpose, it can create liability when it is not viewed as being “contemporaneous.” Accusations of retaliation or employment claims can then follow, undermining supervisor credibility. Do you need to brush up on documentation skills? Contact the EAP—the professionals there can help you.

Q. What does it mean when EAPs are described as “non-disciplinary”? Does this simply mean the EAP does not institute disciplinary actions?

A. Non-disciplinary means that the EAP is not used by the organization for disciplinary purposes; referral to it is not a punitive step. It also means that participation in the EAP can’t stain an employee’s performance record or be used against him or her in promotion, hiring, or decisions regarding work assignments. These are all foundational principles of EAP application within work organizations. Non-disciplinary also means that EAPs do not recommend for or against disciplinary actions, or interfere with or thwart management’s deliberations on how to manage job actions with troubled employees. On another note, EAPs don’t protect employees from disciplinary actions by way of their participation; an employee can’t claim “safe harbor” as a way to block disciplinary actions.

Q. My employee’s husband showed at work and engaged in a shouting match with her in the lobby. It lasted about 30 seconds, but it shook everyone up. I made a formal referral to the EAP based upon this disruption. Did I do the right thing? This was not a performance issue, but it must not happen again.

A. Yes, you did the right thing, and based your referral on the disruption everyone witnessed. This is a domestic violence incident spilling into the workplace. Your employee could be a domestic violence victim, or conceivably, the perpetrator of domestic violence. We don’t really know. However, the EAP will assess the situation and make a determination regarding how to proceed. This will include an assessment of the risk to the employee and the organization, and if need be, communication with a signed release so you can feel assured that any issues regarding this situation are being properly handled. Remember, a formal referral to the EAP is not a punitive measure, and helping her participate in the program by making a formal referral was a smart move. Domestic violence cases can spill into the workplace, and many historical accounts have included injury and death of fellow workers.

FrontLine Supervisor is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be specific guidance for any particular supervisor or human resource management concern. For specific guidance on handling individual employee problems, consult with your EA professional.  ©2021 DFAPublishing & Consulting, LLC. Gender use in Frontline Supervisor content is strictly random.

August 2021

August 10, 2021

Q. EAPs help employees and protect the bottom line by reducing absenteeism and costs, including those related to workers’ compensation. But what about improved morale? How does one put a dollars-and-cents measure on it so the EAP gets credit?

A. When employee assistance programs help employees resolve personal problems, happier and healthier employees result. If we can assume happier and healthier employees have a positive effect on morale, then it’s obvious that EAPs can be a major contributing factor. But your question is about dollars and cents. Although it is not possible to pin a dollar figure to low or high morale, there are other measurable values that morale is known to directly affect. One of them is turnover. Research is plentiful on the hard costs of turnover. Productivity is also affected by morale. And, of course, this can be measured. So, if an EAP is proactive within the organization, helps employees resolve problems, and contributes to high morale and lower turnover, there is some significant confidence that the dollars-and-cents impact can be safely attributed to the EAP. There are dozens of other factors that also influence the bottom line.

Q. My employee injured his foot playing soccer over the weekend. The story is suspect, but he is on crutches and wants to avoid lifting for a few weeks. I asked for a doctor’s note, but honestly, it looks fake. Do EAPs get involved in situations like this? Our small company doesn’t have policies or procedures.

A. Typically, larger organizations manage situations of this type with service vendors, policies and procedures, and human resources consultation. If none of these procedures, services, or advisors exist, contact the EAP for guidance and about its capacity for assisting you. At this moment, you can only accept what the employee is telling you. You must accept on good faith that an injury exists, how bad it is, and how it occurred. You can’t question or examine “functional capacity” to verify the need for the accommodation. You must also assume the doctor is real, the note is valid, and that nothing else(i.e., substance abuse, etc.) influenced the cause of the injury and could become a bigger problem in the future. Those are a lot of factors! An EAP assessment and coordination of communication regarding medical needs would cover all these bases and allow you to focus on job issues rather than external factors.

Q. When an employee seeks help from the EAP, how is it different from counseling services offered in the community by a mental health clinic?

A. When employees seek help for personal problems in the community, there is usually no input other than the employee’s view or understanding of his or her issues. The community clinician may complete an assessment or a psychosocial history to gain insight into the origin and to understand key aspects of the problem, but the employee’s account is the sole source of information. When an employee visits with the EAP first, an assessment helps steer the employee toward appropriate resources that match the identified issues. With the employee’s permission, this information is shared with the referral. This gives the clinician additional context about the nature of the problem and is aided by the EAP’s expertise and proximity to the workplace. As a result, the treatment resource counselor will establish a realistic treatment plan more likely to help the employee.

Q. Many personal problems are very difficult to overcome. Addiction is one of them. How do EAPs help employees with this illness if a client only self-refers because of some trouble or symptom related to the addiction? People in total denial are going to pay attention only to an immediate fix, right?

A. Symptoms of a problem, not “the problem” itself, lead people to seek help. This dynamic is practically universal in the helping process. Regarding addiction, self-referral to a doctor, counselor, or EAP is usually prompted by an adverse work-life incident (symptom). Misinformation and stigma feed denial, so “self-diagnosis” of addiction is often a slow discovery process. The path includes many small and larger crises before acceptance. This process can be accelerated, however, with accurate information and motivational counseling that overcome the addict’s misunderstanding of addiction. This misunderstanding may include a definition of addiction that doesn’t match his or her symptoms. This is where EAPs play a role. Most alcoholic drinkers in denial will have some definition of convenience, one that allows the individual to “compare out” of the diagnosis. If and when symptoms worsen, the definition may change. Still, as awareness grows, the likelihood of accepting treatment increases with a crisis.

Q. Please offer a few important tips, perhaps including a few of the most overlooked, supervisors should consider when making a referral to the EAP.

A. When making a formal referral to the EAP, success means that the employee actually makes it to an appointment. To increase this likelihood, consider the following. 1) Assure employees of confidentiality. This is their key concern even if they don’t say so. 2) Promise the employee that you will not discuss the referral with his or her coworkers or other managers who do not have a need or a right to know. 3) Promise the employee that participation in an EAP has no bearing on job status, future promotional opportunities, or job security. Only performance-related matters can affect these things. 4) Talk to the EAP ahead of time. Communicate details to the EAP about performance issues upon which the referral is based. Tell the employee you have spoken to the EAP and have given them the exact same performance information discussed with the employee. 5) Say that you anticipate hearing the appointment was kept.

FrontLine Supervisor is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be specific guidance for any particular supervisor or human resource management concern. For specific guidance on handling individual employee problems, consult with your EA professional.  ©2021 DFA Publishing & Consulting, LLC. Gender use in Frontline Supervisor content is strictly random.