Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Musings on Mandatory EAP Referrals

Mandatory referrals indeed do have leverage, but it clearly appears that they are unethical and in violation of EAP practice standards despite their wide-spread use. It is an "elephant in the room" of the EAP field. Although I have not seen EAPA take a stand on this issue (someone correct me if I am wrong) mandatory referrals appear to violate a key principle in the helping professions--client self-determination. EAPs are voluntary in the EAPA standards. A mandatory referral is coercive and contrary to the spirit and intent of the standards it seems to me. Many of my core technologist colleagues agree. I first mentioned this dilemma at the 2002 Boston EAPA Conference. I had no one walk up and disagree. There is a better way to go, and a more powerful approach to motivating a troubled employee to voluntariy accept help.

Forcing an employee to the EAP by stating they have no choice (mandatory) disregards self-determination and it is unethical practice. It is also unethical for clinical social workers to cooperate or promote such a practice—according to the General Counsel of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). (Based upon a personal conversation I had with her several years ago regarding this practice.)

A firm choice agreement maintains the ethical boundary, yet creates a sense of urgency equal to a mandatory referral--perhaps more--yet it is distinctly different and conforms not only with the core technology but the historical foundation of supervisor referrals as designed originally in occupational alcoholism programs. Firm choice agreements cause employees to act on their own behalf and seek help from the EAP or face consequences for legitimate job performance problems or rule violations--not because of failure to attend the EAP as in the case of mandatory referral. The agreement by the employee to attend the EAP while discipline is held in abeyance, in accompanied by the requirement to participate fully in its recommendations. The quality of the EAP interview with firm choice referrals is infinitely more productive. For these reasons, mandatory referrals are no longer permitted by the U.S. Department of Personnel in civilian government agencies according to its well-followed Federal Personnel Management Directives.

The result of a mandatory referral for an employee is "resentment" and sluggish cooperation at best. At worst, an uncooperative client is created and hate of the EAP is engendered. Use of the mandatory referral also harms and erodes the effectiveness of EAPs and their natural ability to attract employees and remain apart from the disciplinary process. Feel free to have your web site link to this free explanation on mandatory referrals to the EAP that brilliant explains all.