When I started working in the employee assistance profession, EAPs did not offer legal consultation services. If a distressed employee called us about a legal issue we could be sympathetic listeners and try to help them manage their anxiety about the problem, but we could not give them what they needed most which was immediate legal advice.
I remember one of the first calls I took after Comprehensive EAP added legal services back in the early 1990’s.
A woman called from work and said, in between her tears, that while she was arguing with her husband that morning he threatened to change all the locks on their home before she returned. His parting shot to her was: “Your name is not on the deed so I can do whatever I want.”
Her voice was shaking when she asked me: “Can he do that?”
She did not, at that moment, want to talk about the communication issues in her marriage (although she did later on). What she wanted was to talk to a lawyer about this situation before she left work to go home that day. What she needed most was to understand what it meant to not have her name on the deed and what she should do about it.
I remember how relieved and grateful she was when I told her I could connect her with a local attorney to discuss this matter as part of the EAP. I also remember how good it felt that I could offer this assistance.
The vast majority of people do not have an attorney on retainer to call when they have a legal problem. In our experience with EAP legal calls, most people who have a legal question, don’t need to hire an attorney, they just need to get a few questions answered.
The EAP legal service is designed to deliver those answers at no cost to the employee and at no additional cost to the employer (i.e. a fixed cost for legal services is built in to the EAP rate).
Beside consultations about divorce, wills, criminal litigation, identity theft and consumer disputes EAPs handle a fascinating array of legal issues reflecting a microcosm of the perils and complexities of modern life.
For example, we recently received a call from a homeowner whose neighbor’s tree had fallen into his yard. He wanted to know who was responsible for cleaning up the mess and, because he had been feuding with this contentious neighbor for years, he did not want to approach the conversation without first understanding his rights and responsibilities.
The only category of legal problems EAPs expressly do not help with are employment related issues. Employers are understandably reluctant to underwrite the cost of advising their employees about how to sue them.
Legal services have become a very popular component of EAPs and are highly utilized by employees and family members.
Employers appreciate the value of offering a service that not only reduces employee stress (and distraction) but also saves their employees the time burden of making calls to find the answers to legal questions.