Coronavirus, lockdown and working from home: The silent issues that could plague your workforce

Wednesday April 29, 2020

The impact of the coronavirus is being felt far and wide, from the loss of jobs and businesses to the new norm of working from home. While for some, the change to working from home is a dream come true; for others, it can be the start of a nightmare.

There are a range of issues an employer may need to manage during this time of isolation to fulfil their obligations for employee health and well-being.

  • Coronavirus anxiety: Yes, it’s a thing! It can cause prolonged stress which can damage an employee’s mental and physical health. Employers must remain aware of, and be able to, spot the signs of stress and burnout so they can provide support.
  • Financial stress can be a significant cause for concern. Worrying about finances can impact people’s ability to sleep, concentrate and be productive. Pre-empt this by keeping communication channels open.
  • Depression and suicidal thoughts: During increased times of stress and anxiety, people who suffer from depression or have suicidal tendencies may be at increased risk. Look out for any cues and be ready to act quickly if you have any concerns.
  • Fear and Bereavement: Employees may have high-risk family members or family who live in countries where the pandemic is severe. Be mindful of their worry and the potential for grief. They may need additional support.
  • Domestic Violence: Since the lockdown was introduced in Australia, reported domestic violence rates have skyrocketed. Watch out for any troubling or subtle signs that give you cause for concern. Remember abuse can be emotional or verbal as well as physical.

Employer obligations

It’s worrying times for everyone and we appreciate you probably have a lot on your plate at the moment. But that doesn’t diminish your obligations as an employer. That’s why we’re here to help.

With the risks of COVID-19 spreading beyond contracting the virus, employers must be aware of the additional threats this crisis may bring to their workforce – including the mental health of staff working remotely.

Managing employee mental health isn’t just good business practice; it’s also a legal obligation. Under the Disability Discrimination Act of 1992, employers are required to adjust the workplace to enable an employee who has been mentally unwell to remain at or return to work. This obligation is dependent on the employee being able to meet the core requirements of their role. Any adjustments may be temporary or permanent.

How to prepare

  • Establish policies and procedures for managing situations where employee mental health is deteriorating due to stress, grief or domestic violence.
  • Provide awareness education and training for all employees and let everyone know who they can talk to should they have a problem, or concerns for another member of staff.
  • Foster an open, safe and non-judgemental environment. People suffering from severe anxiety or who are in a bad place physically, mentally or emotionally may feel isolated, alone and ashamed. Your role is to offer reassurance and help to find the right supports for them.
  • Make emergency contact numbers readily available to all staff.
  • Be ready to do a safety check if concerns are raised. Have a trained person contact the employee you are concerned about to check on their safety. Reinforce that you are there to help, no matter what the situation is. Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions; you need to identify their level of danger so you can take immediate action if necessary.
  • Be aware of what leave entitlements are available in different situations, such as bereavement, domestic violence and personal leave.
  • Provide a return to work policy that provides a structured and collaborative plan to help employees return to work.

Contact us if you need assistance with supporting your staff or implementing processes to fulfil your legal obligations as an employer.

If you or an employee is in a position where you need domestic violence support, call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit White Ribbon Australia for more information.

 If you or an employee is struggling with suicidal thoughts, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au, or the Suicide Call Back Service on  1300 659 467 or visit www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au

Preventing People Problems

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