Supporting Your Employees’ Mental Health During COVID-19

By Sean O’Donnell

These blog posts are meant to provide educational content and are not to be taken as legal advice.

The devastating physical and economic effects of COVID-19 are now clear. What may be less clear, however, are the effects that it is having on mental health. While employers struggle during the transition to get their team working from home or conduct regular sanitizing of their premises – along with the business impacts of having their physical locations shut down or complying with new regulations, they also need to keep in mind that now more than ever, employees may be facing mental health challenges as they deal with their stress and anxiety concerning the pandemic. 

Essential workers such as grocery store clerks, food producers, and healthcare workers may be feeling fearful that they are going to contract COVID-19. Those working from home may be feeling depressed or anxious that they might lose their jobs. This stress may lead to bursts of anger, poor work quality or withdrawal. If you work with a larger team, you may want to have a meeting or teleconference with those in supervisory roles to review your company’s mental health policies and how to respond when you suspect an employee is having difficulty. 

During this pandemic, it is reasonable for employers to expect that at least some of their employees will experience mental health challenges. It would be prudent therefore for employers to be proactive in communicating early on that they are there to support their employees through this challenging time. 

Let your employees know that help is available to them if they are struggling. If your company offers an Employee Assistance Program (“EAP”), take the time to make sure that they are aware of it and how to access it. You can also provide your employees with online resources for mental health support. 

What is an employer to do – the duty to accommodate:

Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, employers have the duty to accommodate employees with disabilities provided that it does not cause the company undue hardship. And this duty to accommodate includes mental health issues. 

The manner in which you accommodate your employees is going to vary based on their needs but some ideas for accommodation include:

  • Reduced or more flexible work hours – this may be particularly beneficial for employees who are working from home and who have children to take care of;
  • More frequent breaks for employees who must still work on site.; and
  • Taking additional measures (beyond what has been mandated by the government and health authorities) to help ensure your employees feel safe. 

Other ways to support employee mental health:

Even though most employees may not tell you that they are experiencing stress and anxiety during this time, the truth is that many of them are. 

Keeping the lines of communication open is one of the best things you can do to support your employees right now. This may include things like regular check-ins and teleconferences for employees who are working from home. Sharing your own anxieties can also be helpful in making it feel acceptable for employees to express theirs. 

Finally, do what you can to encourage self-care during this time. Let employees know that you want them to take care of themselves by eating healthy and staying active – perhaps getting up from their computer every once in awhile to go for a walk. 

SJO Legal is here to help:

If you are an employer and need help in knowing how to accommodate employees with mental health issues during COVID-19 or in simply being supportive, we would like to help. Call us today to speak with a member of our team.