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Mental Health in the Workplace – Post Pandemic Panic

June 15, 2021

By: Amy Siegel Oran 

Florida workers’ compensation law does not cover purely psychological trauma; the emotional condition must be brought about by a physical injury that occurred in the workplace. As a WC defense attorney, I have always considered that provision to be reasonable. We hear rumors about the claims in California that are so expensive due to their liberal laws. However, I find myself wondering if maybe our statute precludes genuinely hurting workers from much-needed, potentially life-saving care. After well over one year of pandemic panic, we are each finding our own “new normal.” Unfortunately, for some, that contributes to a much more stressful work environment. Let me offer a few hypotheticals:

  • 41-year-old immunosuppressed mother of two children, ages 7 and 9. Her employer has pushed for a return to the office, does not require proof of vaccination, and has abandoned all social distancing and masking. Although vaccinated, her medication may have rendered it ineffective.

How much anxiety must she feel as coworkers stand and speak in close proximity and she shakes in fear of bringing home the virus to her children?

  •  Two employees who rely on each other to work as a team, but one came back from 16 months at home with an entirely different attitude. Full of anger, hostility, and a total disregard for his job responsibilities.

How is the other to cope with his former work buddy putting his job at risk on a daily basis when he has a family to feed?

  • Lastly, we would be remiss not to wonder about the emotional scars of our first responders. Our healthcare workers saw too much death on the job to move on as though it never happened. The nurse who hears the sounds of ventilators whenever she closes her eyes may not have suffered an injury under the act, but is traumatized nonetheless.

How can we say her emotional trauma was caused by anything other than her job? Our heroes will suffer the most.

I am not ready to stand up and declare the Statute is wrong, or that §440 is unfair; but, I have been giving this concept some serious thought. I have questions that never really crossed my mind before 2020.  I am well aware that such a major change in the law would open a huge can of worms and I am quite certain most would not have as many merits as my hypotheticals.  Beyond the exceptions already carved out for first responders it would be infeasible to start accepting purely psychiatric alleged injuries; but, like everything else in life, it will be unfair for some. I suppose working through those questions and making the best claims decision I can on behalf of my clients is my new normal. What I know for sure though is that we have all sustained emotional scars, we have all mourned, and we have all feared for our health and the health of those we love. I don’t know how any of us can see the world the same way, without questioning what we previously accepted blindly.

Mental health is no joke and whatever has caused us to hurt needs to be addressed, just like any other medical issue. There should be no stigma associated with asking for or needing help. I am extremely fortunate to work for a company that recognizes the importance of our mental health and takes affirmative steps to ensure all employees have access to immediate help if needed, as well as providing ongoing programs to help cope with the stress of our work environment.  These healthy living tools include:

  • A paid Mental Health day off.
  • Lunch & Learns on how to cope with stress and staying calm in the chaos.
  • Employee Assistance Program, which offers 24/7 unlimited consultations with masters and doctoral-level counselors.
  • Fitness tips and webinars on how to keep your mind and body healthy.

None of us will come out of 2021 as we walked into 2020; be good to each other and good to yourself.

 


Amy Siegel Oran is a Partner at Kelley Kronenberg focusing her practice on Workers’ Compensation

Contact Amy Siegel Oran at:
Phone: (800) 718-9865
Email: asiegel@kklaw.com

 

 

 


DISCLAIMER: This article is provided as a courtesy and is intended for the general information of the matters discussed above and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Neither Kelley Kronenberg, nor its individual attorneys or staff, are responsible for errors, omissions and/or typographical errors – always seek competent legal counsel.