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Release EAP information on a ‘Need to know’ basis

by on
in Hiring,Human Resources

Employee assistance programs (EAPs) can help employees regain an edge lost to problems like alcohol abuse. But it’s a good idea to keep mum about an employee’s participation in the EAP.

You don’t want word to leak out about employees’ problems or interfere with their privacy or promotion opportunities. Loose lips can open the door to an ADA lawsuit.

While you could violate the ADA by refusing to promote or transfer someone because he or she participates in an EAP, you’ll avoid liability so long as the person making the decision doesn’t know about the problem.

That’s another good reason to keep disability information confidential.

Recent case: Sony Electronics worker Robert Holodak told his employer that he had decided to stop drinking. He then began participating in the company’s EAP program.

Under Sony’s policy, EAP participants couldn’t pursue transfers or promotions for six months. Holodak applied for other positions anyway. When Sony rejected him, he quit and sued for discrimination, alleging the company perceived him as disabled and an alcoholic.

But the hiring manager’s testimony saved the day for Sony. The manager said that when he decided not to transfer Holodak into the open positions, he wasn’t aware of his drinking problem or his participation in the EAP.

The federal appeals court ruled that the manager couldn’t have considered Holodak disabled when he had no knowledge of his problems. (Holodak v. Rullo, Sony Electronics, No 05-2141, 3rd Cir., 2006)  

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