HD80 - Report of the Joint Subcommittee Studying Regulation of Employee Assistance Programs and Professionals

Executive Summary:

House Joint Resolution No. 230, passed by the 1996 Session of the General Assembly, established a joint subcommittee to evaluate the need for regulating employee assistance programs and professionals (Appendix A). The subcommittee met on four occasions and pursued a vigorous agenda which included presentations and testimony by members of the employee assistance profession, representatives from the business community, members of professions closely related to the employee assistance field, and other concerned citizens.

An employee assistance program is a worksite-based program designed to identify and resolve employees' personal problems that may impair productivity in the workplace. Employee assistance professionals offer employers and employees and their dependents programs dealing with employee alcohol and substance abuse; family and marital problems; and legal, emotional, or other personal concerns that may adversely affect job performance and productivity. An employee assistance professional's services include identifying employee problems, establishing links between the employer and counseling and treatment resources in the community, referring the employee to an appropriate practitioner for diagnosis and treatment, and monitoring the employee's progress in addressing his problems.

Modern-day employee assistance programs originated in occupational alcohol programs first established in the 1940s by companies such as DuPont and Kodak to address decreasing profits and productivity caused by employee alcoholism. Such programs gradually expanded their focus to include other employee problems such as family and marital difficulties, stress and other emotional problems, and drug abuse. Today, over 7,000 professionals, or approximately one-third of all practicing employee assistance professionals, belong to the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA), which was established in 1989 and serves as the primary occupational organization of the profession.

The profession is largely unregulated throughout the United States. However, the profession does provide self-regulation through program standards established by the EAPA and a certification credential provided by the Employee Assistance Certification Commission (CEAP). As of this writing, only two states, Tennessee and North Carolina, have enacted licensure laws for employee assistance professionals, and the profession is completely unregulated in Virginia. Advocates supporting licensure urged the subcommittee during its deliberations to recommend state regulation to prevent consumer harm and incompetent service by unqualified individuals holding themselves out to the public as employee assistance professionals. Opponents of licensure, many of them from the business community, noted that the employee assistance profession and the business community are capable of self-regulating the profession and asserted that cases of consumer harm have not occurred in Virginia. In addition, opponents noted that businesses and professionals providing employee assistance services do not desire the extra costs that may result from a system of licensure.

The joint subcommittee believed, after the course of its deliberations, that state regulation of employee assistance professionals is necessary to ensure that such professionals provide quality service to their clients and to prevent the occurrences of consumer harm and unqualified practice of the profession. Accordingly, the subcommittee recommended that employee assistance professionals be licensed in the Commonwealth and endorsed legislation accomplishing this recommendation (Appendix B).