How is the COVID-19 Pandemic Impacting Workers’ Mental Health?

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The Coronavirus (COVID-19) is known to cause a range of physical symptoms, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell, and extreme fatigue. To date, the virus has claimed the lives of over 350,000 people in the United States alone. In addition to the impact this has had on people’s physical health, the pandemic has taken a serious toll on people’s mental health. As the global pandemic continues, schools remain closed, many businesses are shut down, and more people than ever before are working from home. Remaining productive while also managing children’s schooling, financial issues, and COVID-19 concerns puts a great deal of pressure on workers.

According to a recent survey, stress levels among workers are at an all-time high, with over 33 percent expressing concerns about a range of mental health issues associated with working from home. Those who suffer from work-related mental health issues may be entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits. An experienced Workers’ Compensation lawyer can provide expert assistance for these workers.

What were the Results of the Survey?

Aetna International conducted an online survey of 4,011 employees and 1,007 employers in the United States, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates. According to the results of the survey, workers and employers have the following mental health concerns:

  • The top health concerns associated with working from home include stress, at 32 percent; and weight gain, 43 percent. Other concerns included stress, musculoskeletal injuries, sleep issues, and contracting COVID-19 and other seasonal illnesses such as the flu.
  • The main health concerns employees have about working in the office include contracting COVID-19, at 48 percent; stress, 43 percent; and getting the flu or other seasonal viruses, 32 percent.
  • Close to 75 percent of workers say that mental health issues have impacted their productivity. Eighty-eight percent of those workers are between the ages of 18 and 24.
  • Eighty-four percent of workers believe that mental health issues are even more important now than they were a year ago.
  • Over 60 percent of workers said that employers should be spending more money on health benefits and resources.
  • The top three factors that would have the biggest impact on employees’ decision to stay with an employer include a positive work culture, annual leave entitlement, and the option to work from home.
  • Respondents said that the top mental health factors that would help improve productivity were the knowledge that their family is safe and healthy, and that the employer would cover any health-related needs.
  • Forty percent of employers responded that they are concerned about the lack of social interaction with other colleagues and the long-term impact this will have on workers’ mental health.
  • Over 60 percent of workers look forward to returning to the office within six months. Just over 80 percent said they would return to work, but only if they could work from home part time.

According to a statement by the Aetna International president, the pandemic has put incredible pressure on workers, from concerns over contracting COVID-19 to dealing with childcare issues and financial concerns. More organizations are developing corporate cultures that prioritize employee’s mental health. That means providing employees with the support they need, from personalized health care to flexible work arrangements.

Are Mental Health Issues Covered by Workers’ Compensation?

Workers’ Compensation provides financial benefits to those who have been injured on the job. Physical injuries such as cuts, lacerations, and broken bones are easy to identify as a work-related injury. Although it is more difficult to prove that a mental health issue is directly related to work, these illnesses may also be covered by Workers’ Compensation. However, to qualify as a work-related injury, the mental health issue must be severe enough that it prevents the employee from being able to do his or her job.

For example, if a nurse who works in a busy urban emergency room is diagnosed with anxiety after routinely treating patients who have been violently attacked or who suffered devastating car accident injuries, she may be eligible for Workers Compensation benefits, including medical treatment and lost wages. If a worker is attacked or sexually harassed at work, causing her to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), she will likely be eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits for any physical injuries she may have suffered, as well as the PTSD.

What are the Different Types of Mental Health Injuries?

Workers’ Compensation claims involving mental health injuries generally fall under the following three categories:

  • Physical/mental claim: These are claims involving a physical injury that causes a mental trauma. It may involve a singular traumatic incident or from an occupation that an employee has done for a long period of time. For example, if a worker’s arm is amputated in a machine accident, the physical injury may heal, but the worker can develop depression, a phobia of heavy machinery, or PTSD.
  • Mental/physical claim: This type of claim involves a work-related mental health issue that causes, aggravates, or accelerates a physical condition. For example, if work stress causes a worker with a predisposition for migraine headaches to suffer from regular severe headaches, he or she may file a mental/physical Workers’ Compensation claim.
  • Mental/mental claim: This type of claim involves a psychological incident that occurs while the employee is on the job, which causes the worker to suffer a psychological injury or illness. An example would be an employee who suffers from severe anxiety and is unable to operate a piece of heavy equipment after witnessing another worker suffer a devastating injury while operating that equipment. This is the most difficult of the three to prove. The employee must be able to show that their job caused a higher level of stress compared with a coworker who has the same job responsibilities.

How can I Prove that a Mental Health Issue is Work-Related?

All workers experience some degree of stress on the job, but they are still able to come to work and fulfill their job responsibilities. In some cases, an employee may suffer from a mental health illness that is caused by a personal issue that is not related to work. To qualify for Workers’ Compensation, the employee must prove that the mental health issue is directly related to work. That can be difficult because many mental health issues develop slowly over time. For example, if an employee has a difficult boss who constantly criticizes their work, imposes unreasonable deadlines, and belittles them in front of other workers, it can be difficult to prove that the employee’s anxiety is caused by the employer’s behavior, and not an unrelated personal issue. Working with an experienced mental health professional can help identify the cause of the anxiety and provide documentation that the toxic work environment is to blame. The following elements must be met to have a successful Workers’ Compensation claim:

  • The work conditions must be considered objectively stressful.
  • The evidence must support the finding that the worker reacted to stressful work conditions.
  • The stressful work conditions must be deemed peculiar to the workplace.
  • The worker must provide evidence that supports a psychiatric disability claim.
  • The court must consider the case’s credibility, including any predisposition that the employee may have.

How can Employers Support Workers’ Mental Health?

There are a number of proactive steps that employers can take to create a positive work environment and support workers’ physical and mental health, including the following:

  • Provide mental health assessment tools to all employees.
  • Offer free mental health screenings conducted by qualified mental health professionals.
  • Provide free or low-cost health insurance that covers mental health counselling and depression medication.
  • Distribute brochures, fliers, and other materials to employees that will help them recognize the symptoms of mental health issues and the steps they can take to seek treatment.
  • Train managers on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, and encourage workers who are suffering from these symptoms to seek help.
  • Host seminars that address effective and productive stress management techniques, including meditation, exercise programs, and mindfulness. These can help employees reduce their stress levels and become more focused and productive.
  • Create designated spaces in the workplace where employees can go to relax, de-stress, and manage their stress levels in a safe space.
  • Encourage healthy lifestyle choices by establishing lunchtime exercise groups for activities such as daily walks, yoga, meditation, and stretching.
  • Allow employees to participate in making choices that impact their mental health at work.

Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Seek Benefits for Workers Suffering from Mental Health Issues

If you or someone you love suffers from depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues that are directly related to work, you are urged to contact the Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton at your earliest convenience. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to put workers under a great deal of pressure, which can have a major impact on their mental health. Our dedicated legal team will work closely with you to determine the cause of your mental health struggles and ensure that you receive the financial benefits they deserve. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online. Located in Baltimore, we serve clients throughout Maryland.