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Using EAP Supervisor Referral Forms
Daniel Feerst, LISW Publisher

The EAP supervisor referral form got a lot of attention in the professional literature decades ago. You don't see much written about its mechanics these days. EAPs have become so "macro" focused to meet the needs of the world of work that these less exciting details about EAPs get lost in the background noise.

Things like supervisor referral forms and how they are used can make a big impact on your program's success, so let's dust off this topic a little bit.

The supervisor referral form is essentially the eyes and ears of the supervisor on paper, sitting with the employee and the EA professional in the assessment. In effect, it substitutes for supervisor's live testimony. Your complete or partial understanding of the supervisor referral form is reflected in what it looks like right now. Let's look closer.

The supervisor referral form allows "firsthand" accounts of performance issues provided by the supervisor. Caution is necessary with the use of supervisor referral forms because they can become practically worthless "secondhand" information if they are not constructed properly and aren't discussed—precisely as written—with the employee prior to referral.

Failing to discuss the form with the employee first sets up the employee for claiming everything on the form is a surprise, untrue, or not exactly correct. These arguments should take place with the supervisor prior to the referral, not in the EAP office.

Sometimes employees who remain problematic on the job also had EAP contacts that didn't work out very well. Frequently these EAP misfires with troubled employees are the result of poor communication between the EAP and the supervisor. Risk to the organization increases as a result. "Well, some people won't accept help", is an easy response.  It's better to examine "what could we have done differently.

It's important to make sure your supervisor referral form fits with your EAP and with policies that govern your EAP. But make it a living document so has issues arise you can alter it to fit the work culture.

Here are my preferences for supervisor referral forms, but these elements may or may not fly with your program:

Include a statement beneath the title at the top of the form that says: "Do not copy or file. Fax to EAP and provide original to employee."

A supervisor can retain his or her notes provided on the form, which, of course, is the substantive part of its contents, but a retained copy of an EAP supervisor referral form can be a loose cannon. It's really not necessary or it stick around at the supervisor's office. It risks becoming a permanent record somewhere, somehow, no matter what the policy says about keeping EAP information out of personnel files and places it should go. The bottom line: not following this rule risks loss of confidentiality or at least it perception.

There is no reason to retain the form because frankly, where is it going to be filed? Only documented performance issues are relevant.

Other helpful components to supervisor referral forms include the purpose of the form stated plain on it, a disclaimer explaining that the supervisor referral is not a disciplinary action, the EAP is non-disciplinary, the referral is being made based upon job performance issues, the EAP is a free service and voluntary, and the EAP is for employees and family members.

On the form should be a request for the employee to sign a release of confidentiality at the EAP so the supervisor can learn of attendance and follow through with recommendations (it should not elaborate on the recommendations).

Add places for the employee's signature (optional, but a very engaging technique) and the supervisor's signature to show that they attest to the contents on the form being discussed. If you put a place for the employee to sign, add a line that says that the employee's signature is not required. Make a space for a summary of job performance problems. Add a section for the details of job performance problems (quantifiable data section). Add a phone number for the EAP and the name of an EA professional to contact, preferably the one whom the supervisor spoke to prior to the referral. At the bottom, include the supervisor's name and phone number.

Again these are things that I have seen in supervisor referral forms that have been used in some EAPs 25 years without alteration, so somethings working. However, there is no absolutes so far as I can tell.