Mental health and the Coronavirus: What frontline workers need to know about their rights

Mental health and the Coronavirus: What frontline workers need to know about their rights

Niki Brown
 | 

The Coronavirus hasn’t just harmed people physically. It’s had devastating mental health effects, especially for front-line workers.

 

How much mental strain it’s caused frontline workers isn’t known yet. A study conducted by Villanova University’s Fitzpatrick College of Nursing is currently underway to take a look at the “long term consequences” of those who are working the frontlines during the pandemic. 

 

According to the Dean of the Nursing College, “We’re very worried about post-traumatic stress disorder. In many respects, some of these people may be very wounded after this experience.”

 

New York City has the highest numbers of COVID-19 related illnesses and deaths in the country. 

 

Many are worried about the extremely stressful situations EMS workers have endured. 

 

According to New York’s vice president of the FDNY’s Local 2507 Union of Queens, “Not only is the workload high, but effects of this are going to last well beyond the emergency. There’s going to be a psychological toll on EMTs and paramedics that we’re not going to be able to understand for a long time.”

 

It is likely that stressors from the pandemic will last well beyond the crisis itself. Healthcare workers may experience depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and an overwhelming sense of guilt in the years to come.  

 

Many experts believe that frontline workers deserve additional mental health benefits and care right now, beyond the benefits their employers currently offer through medical insurance. 

 

For example, Dr. Lorna M. Breen recently committed suicide after treating hundreds of Coronavirus patients at  New York’s Presbyterian Allen Hospital. Her family believes that her working conditions, which included extremely long shifts, may have contributed to her suicide.  

 

Her sister told the Today show, “She couldn't stop working, and she certainly couldn't tell anybody she was struggling. And that needs to be a conversation that changes. People need to be able to say they're suffering and to take a break."

 

Here, we offer some information for those whose jobs are causing them extreme stress and depression during the Covid-19 crisis. 

 

Does insurance cover mental health care for frontline workers?

 

The Affordable Care Act requires mental health coverage to most individuals under their insurance plans. Additionally, employers must offer support services for those with mental health disabilities. 

 

If you are unsure about mental health coverage under your insurance plan, here are some steps you can take by following the recommendations from mentalhealth.gov. 

 

Can employers be held liable due to the mental trauma you have suffered from while working during this pandemic?

 

Current legislation has yet to determine if employers can be held liable for mental and physical trauma endured from working under their employment during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

 

However, a handful of states are implementing legislation that says frontline and essential workers who contract Covid-19  are entitled to workers’ compensation

 

In California, for example, Governor Newsom issued an Executive Order N-62-20, which outlines workers' compensation benefits related to COVID-19. 

 

The order, however, doesn’t mention anything about those who suffer from mental health illnesses that may be related to the Coronavirus. 

 

Courts will likely determine if mental health issues fall under Coronavirus-related illnesses. 

 

What are some ways for employers to support the mental health of their employees during this crisis?

 

Companies such as  Chevron Corporation, Culligan Water, Verizon Media, and many others have taken the initiative to implement mental health services at no cost to their employees during this pandemic.

 

For example, Chevron continues to encourage employees to use their assistance programs. This program gives employees the ability to contact mental health professionals by phone or video chat. 

 

Culligan Water has given employees free access to mental health support programs such as self-care videos, coaching, live meditation sessions, and stress management activities for employees to adapt during this crisis. 

 

Lastly, Verizon Media has maintained daily check-in letters with employees, virtual Q&A with mental health professionals, and implementing toolkits for managers to give their staff to cope with stress and anxiety during this time.

 

Some hospitals are providing additional mental health resources too.

 

Health and Hospitals is a Covid-19 fund for frontline workers that provides them with clean working materials, food, and hotels for those who don’t want to expose their families to COVID-19. 

 

Some hospitals are encouraging staff to use break rooms as a way to rest for a few minutes at a time. During breaks, some nurses and doctors across the country are having virtual psychiatric meetings to help them cope during stressful shifts.

 

Furthermore, the Department of Defense has said they will soon supply health and hospitals with the proper stress-management programs that health care workers need. 

 

I am an employer. How can I help support the mental health of my employees during this crisis? 

 
  1. Mind Share Partners is a great training tool for employers to provide mental health support to their employees. 
  2. Forbes has provided 5 Ways to support employees Mental Health During a Pandemic. This gives employees a great step-by-step process to implement mental health awareness and support.
  3. Here at LawChamps, we have linked our Mental Health & Support page to give employees some programs they can provide their employees.
 

This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.

Niki Brown

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