NEW YORK _ Robert Bratt felt he had been wronged. He believed
his employer of 12 years, International Business Machines Co.,
had implemented one of his ideas without giving him credit. He
appealed to superiors, but felt justice was not served.
Upset about what he considered unfair treatment, he became
deeply depressed and could not work. IBM asked him to see a
company doctor, who after a halfhour meeting with Bratt told
executives he was paranoid and mentally unstable.
Based on that diagnosis, IBM asked Bratt to take a leave of
absence. He sued IBM, charging his privacy had been violated by
the doctor's report, which he had believed would be confidential
under company policy.
Increasingly, employees are telling personal problems to
company counselors and doctors in employee assistance programs,
known as EAPs. Presented as free employee benefits, EAPs are
designed in part to help cut a company's medical and mental
health expenses and improve worker productivity.
Although EAPs can often help employees through difficult
periods, and are frequently the only care they can afford,
lawyers charge EAPs are sometimes used wrongly by managers and
employee privacy is not always guaranteed.
"EAPs can be an effective way of providing services to
employees," said Russ Newman, executive director of professional
practice at the American Psychological Association. "But it is
important (that) providers let employees know the limits of
The Hay Group, a management consulting firm, estimates about
68 percent of companies now offer such services, which include
psychiatric help, financial counseling, assistance with family
problems and alcohol and substance abuse treatment.
Use of the programs has increased in the past few years, as
company restructurings and layoffs led to a dramatic increase in
workplace stress and violence.
Changes at work have affected employee morale, their personal
lives and in some cases have led to increases in drinking,
substance abuse and marital discord, said N. Elizabeth Fried, a
management consultant based in Dublin, Ohio. That has meant a
cost to employers in absenteeism, decreased productivity and more
worker compensation claims.
At IBM, the EAP is available to all employees and gives them a
way to deal with personal issues they don't feel comfortable
talking to supervisors about, said Harry Newman, a senior IBM
human resources adviser. Whatever occurs between the employee and
EAP professionals is held in the strictest confidence, he said.
The company had no comment on Bratt's suit, which was settled
out of court after eight years.
Most EAPs are intended to help employers as well as
"The goal is to allow employees to solve their personal
problems so they don't impact work," said Dr. Richard Chaifetz,
president and chief executive officer of Chicago-based ComPsych
Behavioral Health Corp., a leading EAP.
And while private visits to mental health professionals for
employees can be costly to companies, an EAP charges employers
usually about $2 to $3 per month per employee, Chaifetz said.
That represents a savings to the employer of three to seven times
the investment, he said.
EAPs can also be crucial in helping employees resolve problems
before reaching the point of violence, Fried said.
EAPs are available to employees in a variety of forms.
Contacts can be initiated by the employee or a family member, as
they are in between 50 and 70 percent of cases, Chaifetz said, or
by someone in the workplace.
In many companies with EAPs, managers are trained to identify
troubled employees and then refer them for assistance.
But lawyers and benefits specialists have a caveat for
employees who consider using EAPs. …