The pandemic has created stressful circumstances that have increased the prevalence of fatigue, anxiety and hopelessness. It is important for employers to recognize the potential mental health toll COVID-19 is taking on their employees and be aware of their legal obligations during this challenging time.
Almost two years after being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, COVID-19 continues to rage on amid the recent surge of the Omicron variant. British Columbia’s provincial health officer recently ordered employers to reactivate their COVID-19 safety plans. As we return to restrictions similar to those seen at the beginning of the pandemic, many are experiencing ever-growing feelings of fatigue and frustration.
Employers should be cognizant of their duties and responsibilities pursuant to occupational health and safety requirements and legislation. Now more than ever, ensuring the health and safety of workers requires employers to communicate clearly with employees to address mental health concerns and provide support through formal policies and practices.
Being proactive in addressing COVID-19-related mental health concerns will maximize employee productivity, minimize employee absences and limit potential liability for an employer. In cases where COVID-19 fatigue amounts to mental disability, the duty to accommodate may be triggered. It is incumbent on employers to be aware of these issues, as they may risk liability if they, for example, discipline an employee without first investigating whether the employee’s performance issues are connected to a mental disability.
While the primary goal of British Columbia’s recent introduction of five paid sick days per year was to limit at-work COVID-19 transmission, employers should expect that employees may use these sick days as respite from COVID-19 fatigue and associated mental health issues.
We will be exploring these and other issues during our BC HR Professionals Webinar scheduled for February 23, 2022. Register now to learn more about navigating COVID-19 in the workplace.
Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.