For the past year, some people have been working from home, and isolating from public environments in support of the current lock down. Unfortunately, essential frontline workers have not had the option to remain isolated. This part of the workforce has been exposing themselves to high-risk environments in order to ensure that necessary service offerings are still available. It is no surprise that essential workers are filing an increasing volume of workers’ compensation mental health claims directly related to the pandemic.
What is causing the rise in mental health claims?
There are two different experiences for essential workforces right now: some are being exposed to COVID-19 firsthand in a medical setting, and some are exposed to increased risk because they are on a worksite, and handling the demands of stressed, isolated customers.
Workers who are directly caring for COVID-19 residents/patients are experiencing increased stress due to the demands of managing outbreaks in nursing homes and hospitals. They are directly exposing themselves to the virus and, in many cases, are witnessing higher volumes of deaths.
For those workers who are onsite outside of a healthcare setting, the challenges are less obvious, but still present. Retailers, distributors, manufacturers, and tradesmen are not only putting themselves at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19, but they are also dealing with backlash from disgruntled customers who are themselves stressed and isolated, as well as customers who may actively resist social distancing, masking, and other preventative measures required by businesses.
What claims are causing the most problems for employers?
ReedGroup has evaluated mental health claim as it relates to workers’ compensation trends in Canada. Based on ReedGroup Canada’s experience, there are three prominent mental health categories that account for the majority of the workers’ compensation claims we have processed since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Claims
- Workers who have experienced high volumes of deaths in their workplace, whether due to an outbreak or through the ICU, are frequently submitting claims for PTSD. Even for trained healthcare professionals, the mental and emotional demands of these circumstances are sometimes too much to handle.
- Harassment Claims
- Frontline workers have experienced significant backlash from customers during the pandemic. New regulations and protocols have been negatively received by many people, especially those who question the validity of the pandemic itself and feel that their freedom is being restricted. Workers are frequently being harassed and tormented by customers for maintaining precautions to try and keep people safe.
- Anxiety Claims
- For some workers, the continued fear of exposing themselves to high-risk environments becomes overwhelming. Whether they have pre-existing health conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder or are concerned that their worksite is not taking all the necessary measures to make the work environment safe, COVID-19 has posed new challenges for people who suffer from anxiety.
Are these claims being supported?
The short answer: yes.
As with any mental health claim, there is no clear-cut criteria for the acceptance of these claims, but to date, the Workers’ Compensation Boards across Canada have taken a more lenient approach to claims relating to COVID-19. While this does not mean that employers should not require a thorough rationale for entitlement and consider an appeal where appropriate, the reason for the acceptance and the surrounding sensitivity of the matter should be taken into consideration when deciding whether to appeal.
The decision to conceal or reveal one’s mental illness can be intensely personal. Mental health disorders continue to be stigmatized. Employers should be mindful of the need to support the mental health and recovery of employees by promoting wellness and accommodation. This pandemic has cast a bright light on the need for greater understanding and tolerance, which in turn should lead to a better employee experience, reduced absenteeism, and a healthier workplace.
Information provided on this blog is intended for general educational use. It is not intended to provide legal advice. ReedGroup does not provide legal services. Consult an attorney for legal advice on this or any other topic.