How Are You Really Doing? Navigating Mental Health Issues During the Pandemic

May 21, 2020

By: Frances M. Haas

Although the pandemic has sown unpredictability into nearly every aspect of our clients’ businesses, I can offer you this kernel of rock-solid certainty: many of your employees are now experiencing some form of anxiety, depression, insomnia, substance abuse issues, or other mental health conditions because of the pandemic. In most instances, these mental health issues are situational and will hopefully lift when the pandemic ends. Until then, employers need to be more mindful of managing mental health issues for employees during the pandemic.


Here are a few general principles to keep in mind as you support your employees and manage mental health issues during the pandemic:


Remember the magic words: “Can I do anything to help?”

    • You are only responsible for accommodating a disability when you know of a need for an accommodation. Sometimes it’s tricky to know when someone may need one—especially for a “silent” mental health condition or when employees are working remotely and you don’t regularly observe them. If you sense someone is struggling, use the magic words, “Can I do anything to help?” This puts the ball in the employee’s court to share information at their comfort level, and allows you to do your part to address uncertainty about a need for an accommodation.

You must document poor performance or a failure to meet job expectations.

    • Our impulse, especially during this crisis, is to give employees a break. Many employees need a break because they are ill, loved ones are ill, or they are simultaneously working, parenting, and home-schooling their children. However, nothing requires any employer to reduce job expectations during the pandemic. If you fail to document or address poor performance, you run the risk of setting the performance bar too low going forward. If you’re going to give employees a break, make sure you inform the employee that their work isn’t up to par, and that you hope and expect it to align with expectations going forward.

Partner with your EAP service.

    • Many employers offer an Employee Assistance Program, or EAP, that allows employees access to all sorts of services that can be helpful for mental health issues, such as counseling. If you offer an EAP, remind your employees that this service is available, that it’s confidential, free to the employee, and may help them feel better or process this crisis.


We’re all in this together, and we’re all trying to find a way through.


Reach out to your Nyemaster Goode attorney for help with your employee mental health questions.