What is special about EAP is the unique tri-partite or “dual client” relationship that exists between the employer, the EAP professional, and the employee. In light of this and because of the work-performance based backdrop, the work of an EAP practitioner always retains an organisational context and focus.
Confidentiality is a key feature of an EAP. The EAP practitioner needs to set standards that safeguard employees, counsellors and organisations during the therapeutic process. Adherence to this by all stakeholders is crucial to maintain the integrity of the service. However, confidentiality is not absolute. If an EAP professional has evidence that an employee is at risk to themselves or others there may be a valid cause to break confidentiality. The contractual limits of confidentiality should be made clear to the organisation and service users.
Stakeholders within the organisation should be briefed on what is and what is not confidential. Further to the client and counsellor, other stakeholders within the organisation include an employee’s line manager or supervisor, HR, health and safety, security and any union involved.
Dealing with confidentiality issues can be complex within an organisational context. Circumstances where a disclosure may be justified or appropriate include:
- real or potential risk of harm to self or others;
- evidence that a crime has been or is likely to be committed;
- a legal requirement (for example, protection of children, prevention of terrorism or if requested by a court);
- a significant threat to the health and safety of those within an organisation.
It is important that EAP and any referred services identify boundaries of consent, and that procedures and processes are set in place as a safeguard. Information may be shared between services as part of the case management process. Typically this is done as part of the referral process between services where some medical history and the work context may be shared. This information should only be as much as is required to assess and manage the case. In addition it should be clear who is controlling the data and how it is being processed.
EAP providers should ensure they have clear protocols set for when a disclosure is required, including the following scenarios:
- the sharing of client information and data protection, internally and externally
- note-taking and any client reports, particularly in response to a manager referral – including who has access, responsibility and custody
- ownership of client records and reports
- referral-on protocols and the transfer of responsibility and accountability1
EAPA Ethical Decision-Making Model
The “dual client” nature of employee assistance work can complicate ethical decision-making; therefore EAPA has developed several resources to assist EAP professionals and others across their global membership toward understanding and addressing potential EAP ethical issues. To assist EAP professionals in addressing potential ethical dilemmas, EAPA has developed a four-step ethical decision-making model.
- Consider the potential ethical issues in the situation
- What are the competing values or interests in this situation?
- What are my personal values on this issue and which ones are in conflict?
- What ethical guidelines apply to this issue, (e.g. law, corporate policies, practice standards, codes of ethics)
Are there applicable policies, practices, procedures or laws that you need to consider as you consult with your client and guide them to a solution? Do you bring any personal bias to this consultation?
- Consider who has a legitimate interest in this situation (i.e. what individuals or groups may be affected by the decision?)
- Individual client?
- Work organisation?
- Others directly or indirectly involved?
Besides the person you are consulting with, who else will be impacted by the course of action you devise? Does the organisation, company or union provide a context that you must consider in working through the consultation with this individual? Have any previous EAP consultations set any precedents applicable to this situation?
- Consider all the possible choices of action
- Which choice benefits the client?
- Which choice benefits the work organization?
- Which choice benefits others directly or indirectly involved?
- Which choice benefits society?
- Which choice benefits me?
Have you adequately engaged the person in generating potential solutions or possible courses of action? Has your consultation helped the person weigh the possible consequences or outcomes of the action? Have you helped equip, prepare or coach the person to follow through with the solution or action you have agreed upon?
- Make a decision
Is there anything else that you could know that might lead you to advocate that the person consider a different course of action or solution? 2
EAPA-SA Code of Ethics
Written into the Constitution of EAPA-SA, approved at the AGM on September 2013 are the twin objectives:
1.4.4 To devise and maintain EAPs and EAP professional/practitioner standards.
1.4.5 To administer the Code of Ethics and complaints procedure for EAPA-SA members.
The purpose of the EAPA-SA Ethics Committee is to promote the highest ethical practice among Employee Assistance professionals and the Employee Assistance Professionals Association of South Africa (EAPA-SA) members. The ethical behaviour and conduct of an EAP professional is concerned with the wellbeing of individuals served and this Code extends to activities and relationships with employers, colleagues, unions, professionals from other disciplines, the local community and society as a whole.
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