As employers prepare post-COVID-19 workplaces, supporting employees’ mental health can be as critical as creating a safe physical environment. Safety measures, such as sanitizing protocols and respiratory hygiene, are vital considerations for physical wellness. Taking a broader view of employee health that also includes emotional and social wellness can help employees manage uncertainty, engage in the workplace and adjust to a “new normal.”
Focusing on mental health is especially important during the readjustment phase. Employees may bring new stressors after weeks of sheltering in place that employers need to consider – from fear of infection at work to personal issues, such as child care concerns or substance abuse. Some may have delayed medical care, while others may be feeling financial stress or mourning lost loved ones. Others may be feeling the toll on their mental health in the form of anxiety, sleeplessness or depression.
Emotional and Social Reintegration in the Age of COVID-19
“These uncertain times are stressful, and we know that stress can lead to poor performance and poor health,” said Dr. Marcos Iglesias, Medical Director at Travelers. “Now is the time to start conversations about the future and drafting a road map that works for your organization.”
As COVID-19 restrictions are gradually lifted, recognizing employees’ emotional and social health can help them reintegrate into the workforce and allow employers to offer additional resources when needed. Here are some strategies to help support mental health as employees return to work:
1. Practice Clear and Frequent Communication
Communicating with employees about plans to reopen can help keep them engaged and provide a sense of normalcy. Employees will want to hear about their company’s response plans, from social distancing to wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as details about workforce and financial stability.
“It is important for employees to know what to expect as they return to the workplace,” Dr. Iglesias said. “That can help remove some of the uncertainty and reassure employees that you have their best interest in mind.”
When you share public health and safety information with employees, it should come from credible sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), state health departments, and reputable medical organizations and journals.
2. Train Supervisors to Recognize At-Risk Employees
While many employees will be fine once they return to work, there may be some who have a harder time reentering the workplace and readjusting. Supervisors and managers can play a critical role in communicating with employees, providing stability and recognizing signs of distress. A recent study shows that 57% of workers are comfortable with their manager asking them about their mental health and 41% want their manager to proactively ask them.
It’s crucial that supervisors and managers are trained in how to recognize employees who may be in distress and to know when and how to intervene. A simple, “Are you okay?” may open the door to better communication and provide an opportunity to gauge an employee’s mental health risk.
Supervisors can also create a welcoming environment for employees who may be returning in a modified duty role or who may have recovered from COVID-19 and may fear being stigmatized. Setting expectations and having clear communication can help these employees readjust to the workplace.
3. Evaluate Flexible Work Arrangements
Employers may want to consider flexible work arrangements, such as adjusted schedules and remote working when possible. These may be necessary during reintegration to reduce stress for those dealing with personal and family issues, such as school closures or caring for loved ones. Companies may also need to reconsider their policies for paid time off, sick leave, leaves of absence, disability and bereavement, based on unique situations that their employees face. Continuing the open communication once employees return can help address challenges and identify solutions.
4. Consider Workplace Accommodations
Returning to work may create anxiety for some due to social proximity, especially when using shared workstations, shared dining space and food prep areas. Employees may ask for accommodations, such as separate work areas, physical barriers, face masks, PPE, cleaning equipment and working from home. This may be especially important for certain employees, such as those with chronic medical conditions and those over age 60.
5. Provide Access to Mental Health Resources
Employers must have available mental health resources for employees in need. This may take the form of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or a referral to external organizations that can provide crisis intervention, counseling or other assistance. Easy access to and promotion of a company’s EAP can help provide many helpful resources – not just mental health – to employees in need.
The COVID-19 pandemic has activated a surge in the use of telehealth, including remote and virtual interactions between individuals and healthcare providers. Access to telehealth can be an important part of an effective strategy for facilitating care to employees post COVID-19, and may offer an efficient alternative to in-person rehabilitation, addiction and mental health appointments. Resilience training may also help employees feel more empowered as they return to work.
There may be cases when urgent intervention is needed: suicide risk and threats of violence. Employees need to know how to identify this risk and what to do in these crisis situations, and providing them with a plan is imperative.
Nearly 17 million people have filed unemployment claims in the last three weeks with the U.S. Department of Labor. Forecasters predict as many as 20 million people could lose their jobs by the end of April. Millions of workers who have lost their jobs also will lose their health insurance. The potential severity of COVID-19 means that being uninsured could leave people at risk for catastrophic health care costs. Here are some key things people who lose their jobs or who are currently uninsured should know.
Coverage Options for People Who Lose Their Jobs or Are Uninsured
If you have insurance through the job you lost: Maintaining your coverage through COBRA is a possibility, but you might find a cheaper option through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces. As always, even though open enrollment is closed, anyone who loses a job with health insurance is automatically eligible for a special enrollment period through the marketplaces. The first thing to do after losing job-based coverage is visit HealthCare.gov to check out options. If you qualify for a premium subsidy or Medicaid, there may be options much cheaper than COBRA.
If you have coverage through the ACA marketplaces: If you lost your job, your income is likely dropping, which means you may qualify for a subsidy. Go to HealthCare.gov and update your income information.
If you have coverage through Medicaid: Keep your coverage and make sure your enrollment status is up to date, so you don’t lose your coverage if you forget to reenroll.
If you are uninsured, you have a few options — and there may be more in the coming weeks:
Recent Legislation and Executive Branch Actions on Coverage
Congress has passed three major emergency spending bills to address the pandemic and the administration has declared a national emergency. Here is what you should know about what this means for coverage:
The staggering economic disruption triggered by the coronavirus pandemic is revealing the importance of the Affordable Care Act in providing coverage options for people who lose their job-based insurance. But the pandemic also shines a bright light on the remaining holes in the system: 30 million people uninsured and at least 44 million who are underinsured because of unaffordable deductibles and copayments. The crisis will place added pressure on the states that have not yet expanded Medicaid and may encourage them to move forward with expansion. It also may push Congress to permanently patch the holes in our insurance system. If it does, the next time we face a public health crisis we can be secure in the knowledge that everyone has health coverage and that illness will not be compounded by personal financial catastrophe because of health care costs.
If you need assistance or don't know what your next step should be, feel free to call us and get help. We can offer Short Term Health Plans, Limited Medical Plans, and Major Medical Plans with loss of other coverage, to individuals who may be in need, or just offer friendly advice during this difficult time!
The holiday shopping season will be here before you know it. But there’s an even more important shopping period to think about first: Open Enrollment.
Whether you’re buying your own health insurance for the first time or are considering switching plans, Open Enrollment may seem like a confusing, stress-inducing event. But it doesn’t have to be. Here’s everything you need to conquer this year’s health insurance signup process.
What is Open Enrollment?
Open Enrollment is the annual period of time when everyone gets a chance to sign up for health insurance for the coming year. This year, you may have heard the approaching enrollment period referred to as “Open Enrollment 2020”.
Employers that offer health benefits also have an annual enrollment period to allow employees to switch plans. While most companies kick off their signup process toward the end of the year (usually October or November), the start date and enrollment window vary from business to business.
Why is Open Enrollment a thing?
Before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010, signing up for individual health insurance was often a challenge. If you had a pre-existing health condition, or had a family history of certain types of diseases, insurers could deny you coverage or charge you much higher rates than healthy people.
These practices prevented people from gaming the system by only signing up for insurance after they developed a health issue. But they also kept many consumers from getting coverage, either because they were denied insurance or because they couldn’t afford it.
After the ACA was passed, new consumer protections were put in place to ensure everyone can get health insurance, regardless of health history. It also provided subsidies to help lower-income people pay for coverage. But these new policies removed the check in place to prevent people from getting insurance only when they really needed it. And thus, Open Enrollment was born.
Under normal circumstances, Open Enrollment is your once-a-year chance to sign up for health insurance. If you miss this window, you have to wait until the next Open Enrollment period to get a new plan (with some exceptions – more on that later). By restricting signups to a limited time frame, insurers are protected from people dropping in and out of plans, paying for coverage only when they have an active health issue.
What’s changed for this year’s Open Enrollment?
For the most part, this year’s Open Enrollment will look a lot like last year. The signup dates are the same. The state and federal Marketplaces still exist, and are one of several ways you can purchase a health insurance plan for 2020. Subsidies will still be available for those that qualify for financial assistance.
Looking for new health insurance for 2020? Start a free quote here.
When is Open Enrollment?For health insurance plans beginning in 2020, Open Enrollment starts on November 1, 2019 and ends on December 15, 2019. But some states have extended the Open Enrollment period until January to give people more time to sign up.
What information do I need to collect for Open Enrollment?
In order to sign up for a plan during Open Enrollment, you’ll need a few key pieces of information, including:
Can I sign up for insurance outside of Open Enrollment?
If you don’t sign up for a health insurance plan during Open Enrollment, and your life circumstances remain the same, you’ll have to wait until next November for your next chance to enroll. However, if your life circumstances do change, you may be able to get insured during a Special Enrollment period.
Special Enrollment is a 60-day enrollment window that happens when you experience a qualifying life event – a fancy phrase for a significant change that impacts your status. Qualifying life events include things like:
Contact our Benefits Department today to learn more and get covered!