Reading Between The Lines


How a sticky HR situation can be tangled in a question about health benefits

By Nicole Gouig

Last week, I had a cliEmployeeBenefitsent ask me, “Does our plan cover employee counseling because I think one of our employees may have an alcohol problem?” I started my career in Human Resources dealing with all sorts of wild employee HR matters, and about a year and a half ago, I decided to move into a full-time benefits consulting role, a branch of HR that I’ve always enjoyed most. There certainly is never a dull moment in the health benefits profession with all of the confusion and chaos created by the Affordable Care Act, but I had to put my HR hat back on to properly respond to my client’s question about their employee benefits program.

What’s really going on?

I was happy to confirm that the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) service was included in the health plan – BUT, the more important question I felt that needed addressing was what was going on with this employee. I was nervous the manager would approach the employee recommending EAP on a hunch the employee had an alcohol dependency problem, which at that point, may not have been the best course of action. I responded by recommending the manager approach it from a performance conduct perspective, because whatever made the manager think the employee had an alcohol problem, most likely meant there were some attendance or performance concerns. I sent over a sample corrective action form, in order to document the conversation. Then, I advised that it is within this conversation that the manager let the employee know there is an EAP service available in case there is anything going on in their personal life distracting them from doing their job.

As a result, not only did the manager remove themselves from whatever mess they could have gotten into by diagnosing an employee as an alcoholic, but they have documentation of performance issues now and the employee knows that their behavior needs to change. The client ended up following the guidance and the situation was handled.

HR and Benefits often go hand and hand. A benefits question around leaves of absences, FMLA, and disability MAY just turn out to be an extremely complicated HR situation with the potential to spiral out of control, so, always make sure to understand the real issue in any given problem.

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