Guest Contributors National

HR & Benefits: Essential Grocery Store Workers Feeling Mental Health Toll Of Pandemic

Chris Cooley mental health
Chris Cooley

by Chris Cooley / co-founder, MyHRConcierge and SMB Benefits Advisors

Grocery stores have seen unusual demands and challenges during the coronavirus pandemic.

Their employees are considered essential and have worked hard during this time restocking shelves, putting in additional hours and dealing with consumers so they can have the items they need to survive. 

In fact, grocery workers have felt a lot of stress and may have increased mental health needs since COVID-19. It’s important that we recognize and respond to this. 

According to experts, the psychological toll of working in public spaces such as a grocery store during the pandemic has been and continues to be significant.

Why is a pandemic so stressful?

We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has been quite stressful for many people. 

Fear and anxiety over a new disease and the thought of what could happen are overwhelming. They stir strong emotions in adults and children. 

Pair this with the media frenzy that is taking place and we have a recipe for anxiety that is hard to match. 

As dictated by the WHO and CDC, public health actions such as social distancing can make people feel isolated and lonely. Social distancing also can increase stress and anxiety. 

This can happen to otherwise mentally healthy individuals. Therefore, it is no wonder why others who have had issues in this arena are even more stressed. 

Based on strong evidence, we know that these actions are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

What is the role of the employer in this?

The employer has a responsibility to provide resources geared towards the well-being of the entire staff. It is also important that discrimination laws are kept in mind. 

The human resources department in any grocer can provide resources or accommodations to help employees address feelings of stress and anxiety. HR also can stay abreast of changes in compliance issues due to COVID-19. 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s existing pandemic publication, “Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the ADA,” helps employers navigate workplace issues related to coronavirus. 

Keep in mind that employers are subject to the ADA if they have 15 or more employees. Smaller employers may be subject to similar rules under applicable state or local laws.

What if an employee has pre-existing conditions? 

Although many people feel significant stress due to the pandemic, employees with certain pre-existing mental health conditions may have more difficulty handling the disruption to daily life. These mental health conditions could include anxiety, obsessive-compulsive and post-traumatic stress disorders.

As with any accommodation request, employers may: 

  • Ask questions to determine whether the condition is a disability.
  • Discuss with the employee how the requested accommodation would assist him or her and enable him or her to keep working.
  • Explore alternative accommodations that may effectively meet needs.
  • Request medical documentation if needed. 

As we move into the new normal, remember that not everyone shows stress or emotions the same, so providing strong human resources and support can help workers feel heard. Coping with stress in a healthy way will make a business, employees and the community stronger.

For more guidance on how to handle human resources issues regarding COVID-19, MyHRConcierge offers a COVID-19 Support Package. Email [email protected]

HR & Benefits News is a monthly column by Chris Cooley, co-founder of MyHRConcierge and SMB Benefits Advisors.

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