My EAP's confidentiality policy sucks

Okay, probably the first thing to note is that I feel really, uh, stupid (whiny? self-involved? weak?) for even going to these people. I have friends who are dealing with really tough stuff (health problems, mostly), and I have this stupid emotional hangup, which is nothing really. It’s like a broken fingernail compared to cancer.

But the employee assistance program is there, and not only that, they send me a little reminder every month along with my paycheck that, you know, they were there for me if I ever needed them. So even though I felt like my problems were very petty and meaningless compared to some, I thought it might help to talk to somebody, and it did. Well, somewhat.

The other shoe drops: It’s been a couple of months, and they sent a follow-up questionnaire to find out how their services worked for me.

Did they enclose it in my paycheck? No, they did not. They mailed it to my house, ion a mysteriously unmarked envelope.

Now I should note here that my company is headquartered in a different state–the state of the return address. But not the city of the return address. And there was no other identifying information, BUT . . . it was full postage, not presorted. So I was curious. So I opened it, right there in front of my husband and son, and of course my husband said, “What’s that?”

“Oh, it’s. . . uh . . . from my . . . office . . . the, uh, something about the EAP”

“Let me see.”

Argh, no, you can’t. I’m snatching it out of his hand, probably blushing, and acting very suspicious, I’ll grant you. I am a horrible liar, in the sense of not good at it. (In person. On the phone I’m not bad. In print I’m phenomenal. Actually I can do okay in person, too, but not if I’m caught by surprise. I need to rehearse.)

“Oh,” he says, “it’s a form wanting to know how satisfied you are with their services–what did you go there for?”

I pull myself together and tell him it was confidential, okay? ANd he went off in a snit.

As well he might, I guess. (Things for discussion: I have no privacy whatsoever.)

When he gets into a snit he stays there, sometimes for, well, weeks. Meanwhile my temperature has gone up considerably and now my kid is also asking, “What’s this all about, Mom?”

“None of your . . . business.” (I don’t cuss around the kid; I leave a space. Were he to fill in the blank it would be something like this: !@#$%^&*)

“Aw come on. What was it?”


Okay. So now, courtesy of my EAP, I have put my husband in a snit and yelled at my kid, and this is supposed to be good for my mental health HOW?

So, thanks a lot to whatever little shit put THAT in the mail. Does it not occur to these people that some problems, given their nature, are things that your spouse would be the LAST person you’d want to hear about it?

(Okay, what else could they do? Well, for starters they could have NOT sent the form. Since I didn’t send it back anyway. Or, if the poor pathetic wretches just HAD to have feedback, they could have clipped it to my paycheck like they did all that other fine stuff telling me they were there for me. In fact, why didn’t they do that? Maybe they didn’t want the people in my office to realize what a stupid maladjusted fool I am? But they think it’s okay for my family to know?)

Their confidentiality policy would suck even more if they sent it in your paycheck, since that would mean the people in your payroll department would know you used the service.

I don’t think that your EAP’s confidentiality is really your biggest problem by a long shot, is it?

He takes your private mail and he’s the one in a snit???

You might want to find a good book on setting boundaries. There is also one about “walking on eggshells.”
But before you read those things, read Revolution from Within. It’s about getting some self-esteem.

You aren’t being whiney, friend, and most of us here to indulge ourselves a little.

Apologize to your child and ignore the pouting husband. He was being very controlling and will do that as long as you choose to give up control. If your child is a boy, don’t let him learn how to manipulate women this way. If your child is a girl, don’t teach her to be so easily manipulated.

Yeah, I don’t see how they could’ve gotten the form to you in any way that would be considered “good”. That’s just stupid. Maybe if they gave it to you on your way out the door or referred you to a feedback website or something when you called - or asked at the end of the call: “We’d like to send you a feedback form, is that OK?” Might want to mention that to them.

I don’t see why apologizing to the kid is in order, though. “None of your business” means “I’m not going to tell you.” In no way, shape or form does it mean “Keep pushing and I’ll spill my guts.” If I asked my mom (even as a kid) “what’s that about” and she said “None of your business,” there’s no way I would expect anything but getting yelled at if I pushed and said, “Oh, come on, mom, WHAT IS IT?”

I sorta do understand Mr. Cicada’s reaction, though. If I got something from our EAP in the mail, DogDad would probably wonder, too. “So, hon, whadja get?”
“Oh, nothing, just something from the EAP.”
Now at this point he MIGHT just say, “Oh” roll his eyes and expect me to toss it out. But he, being an intelligent person, and knowing what EAP is, might also be concerned. “OH…um…anything wrong? Everything OK? Why are you talking to them?”
And if I couldn’t TELL HIM what’s going on, then he’d assume it’s about him and…well…get upset that I’m not talking to HIM about the problem I have with him. Instead, I’m talking about him to some person he doesn’t even know. So NOW he’s upset with me over something that he could just be imagining is true. But I can sorta see where he’s coming from.
However, grabbing it out of your hands is NOT ON. That’s just WRONG. It’s your damn mail, YOU should read it. And it’s none of his business what it is. So Mr. Cicada was definitely out of line on that one. And yeah, the sulking is pretty manipulative.

I see this as a problem in your home, not a problem with your EAP. I opened this thread expecting you to say they sent something to you through inter-office mail and it got into the hands of your supervisor.

It is not the EAP’s fault that your husband is nosy and didn’t respect your privacy–or that he got miffed when you wouldn’t tell him.

I do believe that I agree with Cranky. And really, isn’t the confidentially of the EAP more designed so that coworkers don’t know you’re using it? I’m pretty sure they’re not trying to keep it top secret from everyone in the world. So sending something home in a discreet envelope seems pretty much SOP.

I’ll agree with the pp’s who are saying this is more a problem with Mr. Cicada — except for one thing. Doesn’t it seem pretty clear that people using an EAP are LIKELY to have problems at home? I think people in the medical community, particularly mental health, have an additional burden of confidentiality, at least in theory. I’ve frequently been asked what forms of contact are acceptable, whether a phone call would be problematic for example. In fact I wonder if mailing that form wasn’t a violation of HIPPA, that new guideline for medical “confidentiality” that means when you sign in at the doctor’s office they now have to pull your name off the little chart so everyone else signing in can’t see it too. We are supposed to have some privacy.

The other thing is, does anyone actually fill out those surveys? I’m soooo tired of being bugged by companies - are you happy? are you happy? When we bought our Honda, we received at least 3 pieces of mail and 4 phone calls asking if we were satisfied. I figure this means we probably paid too much for the thing. Now of course I’m happy with my Honda, they make terrific cars. The people I WANT to hear from are the yahoos at Wendy’s drive-thru who never give me French dressing, but always Ranch, plus they forgot my taco chips. But do they ask if I’m satisfied? Noooooo!

Also, Cicada, don’t fret about your problems being too picayune to be addressed. All suffering deserves relief, and everyone’s burden is different. You’re no less worthy than anyone else.

Sorry, you open up your precious private mail right in front of your husband and child and get upset when they ask what it is? Bullshit, don’t open up a letter in MY face and then get all defensive when I ask an innocent, “what’s that?”

Am I the only one here who thinks keeping her “nothing really, just a broken fingernail” problem a confidential secret from her husband is just a bit troubling?

I agree with Cranky that this is a problem with your husband and not the EAP. Sticking the form in with your paycheck would have been a breach of confidentiality, as it would have required at least one person in the payroll office to see it. Sending it to your home in an unmarked envelope is much more private. It’s not their fault that your husband is nosy, disrespectful and immature.

Curiosity about the content of the letter is perfectly natural, and so is curiosity about what you’d gone to them for, but once you’d told him you were reluctant to discuss it, he should have dropped it right there. While I do talk about pretty much everything with my husband, if a subject does come up that I’m unwilling or unable to discuss with him, he has enough respect for me to not push it.

To be fair, her husband didn’t just ask “What’s that?” He also snatched it out of her hands and read it.

She complains at one point that she has no privacy at all - perhaps that’s her “broken fingernail” complaint. Who knows, maybe her husband checks her E-mail, grills her when she’s the least bit late coming home, opens her private mail when she’s not there to intercept it?

And even if you accept the argument that spouses ought to share such information, it’s still HER decision when and how to do so.

Thinking a bit more, if this is a constant thing with the husband, him going through your business and taking letters from your hands, etc… I can appreciate how it becomes a problem. I’m just starting myself with the whole marriage thing, so I expect that we will share just about everything, and keeping secrets seems odd.

Sometimes it’s not even about keeping secrets. There have been times I didn’t want to tell my husband what I was reading or who I was on the phone with or what it was about, not because I had a problem with him knowing but rather because he was asking so many of these questions that it felt like I couldn’t have a thought of my own.


IANAL, but you may want to consult one. As I understand it after a very brief review of some HIPAA guidelines Medical providers aren’t allowed to tell anyone (and that includes your husband) that you’ve received treatment without your express permission.

Any of our local legal beagles want to weigh in?

IANAL either, but I do work in a medical center. If anyone’s broken any laws/rules here, it was her husband for reading private mail. The letter was addressed to her, and was not labeled with anything suspicious on the envelope. My doctors send me bills, referrals, and test results at home all the time.

I agree. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s my understanding that it is illegal for anyone but the addressee to open mail, even a spouse.

IANAL but I am a psychologist. My intake form asks how you’d like me to contact you if I need to in the future. Had the EAP given her this option, she could have specified a different address or phone number.

The EAP does not appear to have violated HIPAA: Their name was not on the envelope, they did not leave a general phone message at her home phone (though I note that my medical appointments are often confirmed by a message on my own home phone), and they did not address confidential information about her to her husband or coworkers. The EAP is not responsible for her confidentiality once they seal the envelope and send the letter to her, whether that’s because a postal worker opens it, terrorists steal it, or her husband wants to know what’s in it.

That said, it still doesn’t sound like client-friendly policy, and I’m very sorry that this happened. I think feedback would be very appropriate.

My husband’s a letter carrier. He says he doesn’t know the policy for sure on this, but he expects that the postal service would not intervene in a case where non-estranged spouses complained about this. Regardless, in this case he didn’t open the mail, he read it after it was opened.

That is way out of control on your husband’s part but you didn’t handle it well. There should have been a policy in place prior to this happening (but it still doesn’t excuse you husband’s behavior). My wife and I sat down and had a talk when we got married. We are each not allowed to open each other’s mail or see it without permission. We have a joint bank account and seperate checking and savings accounts. Neither of us is allowed to see or comment on the other’s (there is no permission for this; it is not allowed to be asked). We have some seperate friends. When we see one of our own friends, the details asked about should be kept to a minimum. When we speak to our own family members, information should only be divulged when it is relevant to my wife or one of my interests that I wish to share. This eliminates 99% of the problems of this type that I hear married couples having.

True, in this case. I was thinking of it in the context of Zakalwe’s post, though, and am thinking it’s not a HIPAA violation if it’s addressed to the patient.