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Supporting Employees’ Mental Health During the Coronavirus Crisis

March 30, 2020

By: Alison Smith, Partner in Kelley Kronenberg’s Fort Lauderdale office focusing her practice on Employment and Labor Law.

Alison has significant experience handling all aspects of employment and labor law including conducting training and employee investigations, engaging in collective bargaining with various unions and providing advice and counsel to private and public entities regarding existing and emerging laws such as the ADA, Florida Civil Rights Act, ADEA, FMLA, FLSA, and others.

 

A little contemplated concern during the Coronavirus crisis has been the mental health of employees.  Many employees suffer with tremendous anxiety and panic attacks on a regular basis, as well as hypochondria and germaphobia, and those same employees are suffering greatly now with this worldwide pandemic, particularly if they have to physically report to work and potentially be exposed to people already infected with the disease.  Some may not able to eat or sleep, and some people may even resort to substance abuse in an attempt to quell their fears and anxiety.  Consider when Florida has hurricanes, which is an almost yearly phenomenon.  Despite the fact that we have them practically every year, it does not get easier to deal with them, and employees often feel anxious and stressed, especially because of the panic and panic buying associated with hurricanes.  I for one will confess that every time a hurricane threatens Florida, I evacuate the state with my family—every time.  So what can you as an employer do, to keep employees calm and mentally well during this storm, which may last for some time?  Here are some considerations:

  • Send communications company-wide to employees advising them of the availability of your Employee Assistance Program (“EAP”), and encourage them to use it if they are struggling mentally during this crisis. During the last major hurricane, my firm sent out communications with links and information about the EAP, which I personally thought was very comforting and thoughtful.
  • Encourage employees who were previously getting treatment for anxiety-related illnesses to be sure to continue their treatments. A failure to continue treatment at this time could be hugely detrimental.  Many therapists are now offering what is being called “tele-therapy” in which therapy is provided using an online platform, to ensure social distancing is maintained while giving the patient the required treatment.
  • Any other resources which would address the mental health needs of your employees should be discussed/disseminated to employees. For example, if you have a substance abuse hotline for employees to use, that should be communicated.
  • Many companies have yoga or meditation as part of wellness programs they promote. Now is the time to promote those sort of wellness programs. Again, many of those exercises can be shared online as opposed to using a physical space.
  • Bear in mind that anxiety, depression, hypochondria, and other similar issues may constitute disabilities, which are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). As such, you may need to accommodate employees with these ailments, and a reasonable accommodation may be allowing them to take a leave of absence or work from home, even if you do not have a specific company policy related to (or even authorizing) working remotely.
  • Keep employees informed about what the company plans to do, and be encouraging and uplifting when sending communications. A lack of information leads to speculation and heightened anxiety, so communication is key in helping to reduce anxiety levels.  Knowledge is power, or as G.I. Joe used to say (when I would come to the United States on vacation and binge-watch that cartoon as a child), “Knowing is half the battle.”

Disclaimer: This article is intended to provide you with general information regarding the impact of a potential or actual coronavirus pandemic. The contents of this article are not intended to provide specific legal advice.

For more information, please contact Alison Smith, asmith@kklaw.com or TEXT, 954-281-9262.