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I know that the so-called anonymous, confidential employee engagement surveys are not anonymous and that HR can ask Gallup or a similar company to cough out an employee's survey response on some pretext.

My company is offering free counseling services for upto 7 sessions for each of workplace problems, parenting problems and two other problem types. So that's a total of 7*4=28 sessions, and we can also get our family members enrolled for these sessions, and they'll get a separate free 28 sessions.
The counseling is done by one of the best companies in the country which outsources their work to professional counselors.
To register on the counseling company's website, we have to use our company email id and once registration is confirmed, we can change it to our personal email id.
The sessions can be held over our personal phone or by going to the counseling company's premises.

I asked the counselor, and she said sessions are confidential and won't be shared with my company unless it is a case of suicide. Also, the information recorded about the session will be retained for 5 years in case it needs to be presented in court (and obviously so that the next counselor can refer it).

So my question here is (if any of you know or could find out from an administrator/owner of a counseling company or your HR), that if a company wanted to know details of an employee's counseling session, would they be able to get it by falsely claiming that the employee has shown signs of suicidal tendencies?

UPDATE: The reason I'm asking is because I don't see why an employer would spend so much money for so many sessions so that the employee and his/her family would get professional counseling from the best in the country. Why would an employer do this if they did not have some means of accessing a certain employee's data?

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    I believe the suicide clause means that if you are suicidal to the counselor they can report you for your own safety. Not that your company can use that as a excuse to gain access. But not a lawyer. – JasonJ Sep 1 '16 at 15:10
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    In most places this would be considered a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality that would likely mean getting fired and losing their license to practice. I can't imagine that a professional counselor or counseling company with such a good reputation would ever risk that. – David K Sep 1 '16 at 15:18
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    What country are you in? Doing this sort of thing results in serious legal consequences in many countries. – enderland Sep 1 '16 at 15:24
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    "Why would an employer do this". Ehm... I assume you have heard of this thing called "benefits"? – Lilienthal Sep 1 '16 at 18:34
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    "Why would an employer do this" Most companies have initiatives for Health & Wellness programs. The idea is to keep employees happy so they'll work 100%. Not to discover deep, dark secrets so they can laugh about it in the back. – Dan Sep 1 '16 at 19:55
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No matter what the legal facts are, since such a counselling service should be confidential, and would probably not be used much if it wasn't, and a decent company wouldn't try to access these notes, you might talk to HR so that they add some notes to wherever the company informs you about the counselling.

Something along the lines of "The company will not attempt to gain access to any counselling notes, and we believe that the counselling service would not give us any access even if we asked".

Update: Why are they doing this? It looks good. Most people will never take advantage of this offer, so it's not that expensive. But people will think "if I ever need it, this is just excellent". And when people take advantage of it, it pays back for the company big time.

  • I've updated my question. A company paying so much for an employee+family seems a bit too overboard for ensuring "mental health and loyalty to the company" – Anon Sep 1 '16 at 18:14
  • @Anon, it's not that uncommon. Every company I've worked for in the past decade has offered some form of EAP (employee assistance program) that extends to the employees family. These services have ranged from free legal counsel to mental health service similar to what you've described. You are your best when health AND home are in order and many companies recognize this. – Steve Mangiameli Sep 1 '16 at 20:28
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    @Anon you've added up the maximum possible number of sessions poer employee. Most emploees won't have a single session. Most of those that do will have a single course at most. So it's not nearly as expensive as you think. Part of the benefit is knowing it's there if you need it. – Chris H Sep 2 '16 at 15:00
  • @Anon: it's a cheap benefit. Most people will never make use of it, but the company can tell potential recruits, "See? We care SO MUCH about our people!". So it looks good, it probably doesn't cost them very much when it does get used, and it hardly ever gets used anyways. Woo. – Bob Jarvis Apr 22 '17 at 2:12
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Any reputable counsellor will consider all sessions and their contents to be completely confidential. Counsllors are bound by their code of ethics not to reveal anything about what you say. In most cases this will be legally enforceable, and in cases where it isn't the counsellor would risk being permanently barred from practice for a breach of ethics.

You yourself know this because you asked the counsellor, which is the right thing to do. For more information about your "falsely claimed to be suicidal" you can also ask the counsellor. They will know more than we do (though I'm pretty sure such a claim, false or otherwise, wouldn't get someone access to your medical records).

  • "Counsllors are bound by their code of ethics not to reveal anything about what you say." - Isn't mental and medical records protected by law? – Dan Sep 1 '16 at 19:56
  • @Dan Reading as far as the third sentence of the answer would have answered that. – DJClayworth Sep 1 '16 at 20:04
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Have you heard something called doctor-patient confidentiality ? Well, it is not something you just hear in medical or police dramas on TV. If your counselor shares his or her notes to anyone without your written consent, they might find themselves in a world of hurt. None of them want to be in that position.

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