Reap Rewards With Mental Health Benefits

Reap Rewards With Mental Health Benefits

What does the term “well-being” mean for each of the individuals you employ? Take some time to answer this question, and from there, think about how you can go about meeting the needs of your employees regardless of the current stage of life they’re in or what is going on in the world today. If employees cannot trust that their employer will take care of them, then how can you expect your business to thrive?

While it’s possible that you’re not ignoring the challenges your employees face or the needs that they have as employees of your company, you are still responsible for them, which remains true even if you are underwater yourself. Giving your employees access to nontraditional benefits, such as mental health services, can be difficult, especially if you are facing HR-related issues such as staff shortages.

You might find yourself preoccupied with everything else on your plate, such as making decisions regarding office spaces, attempting to manage workplace culture when you have virtual employees or focusing on retaining employees.

Any of these could play a role in why a lot of employers have found themselves dropping the ball and choosing not to provide their employees with mental health services, resources or support. As a result, numerous employees are finding themselves in difficult situations, resulting in them finding it hard to access the care they need. Even in situations where proper care is offered to them, approximately 43% of respondents to a particular survey by Uprise Health — a provider of digital employee assistance programs — state that support is challenging.

In April, a survey set forth by the American Institute of Stress discovered that 83% of most employees are stressed out for many reasons, though work is the top concern of these individuals. This is quite reasonable, seeing as the COVID-19 outbreak and the pandemic that it caused ultimately increased the number of instances of depression and anxiety worldwide by 25%, as noted by the World Health Organization.

Keeping up with health-related and well-being benefits for your employees might certainly pay for itself, seeing as this effort will result in the improvement of productivity levels, short-term disability claims and relevant resignations. In fact, more than 50% of all employees seem to think that their employer is not doing as much as it could to support the mental health of its employees, according to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll in May.

A lot of factors, including the pandemic, global events such as the war in Ukraine and the dangers of climate change, have all topped the list of all the stressors that impact the mental health of employees on a daily basis. In fact, 68% of said employees have admitted that these issues have caused a very negative impact in terms of their mental health.

Examples of possible situations

  • Find a benefits partner that is proactive in offering mental health benefits.
  • Devise a workplace strategy with a partner that doesn’t only pitch or sell benefits but works with employers and employees in ways that benefit everyone.
  • Look for a partner that is more of a consultant and ask them to assist your firm in the process of removing yourself from a crisis-reactive mode.

Last year, 98% of the employers that have benefited from mental health benefits have added or planned to add mental health services for their employees, according to Sequoia, a benefits consultancy. Ensuring that the benefits being offered accurately address the needs of the employees could very well be a reason to focus on conducting an employee audit.

Questions to ask as you look for a mental health benefits program

  • How quickly can employees schedule an appointment with you and your company?
  • Can your employees access the profiles of therapists, seek out additional information about the backgrounds of said therapists and understand their specialties?
  • Is there a care navigator who can walk employees through the process of defining what their needs are, such as a licensed therapist or a lifestyle coach?

Ways to encourage your employees to take advantage of mental health benefits

  • Provide your employees with direct access to mental health professionals, both on the phone and via in-person appointments.
  • Offer the service not only to your employees but also to their immediate families.
  • Emphasize that numerous benefits can be easily accessed, both confidentially as well as completely free of charge.
  • Take measures to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and mental health support while increasing the access your employees have to mental health resources. You can even extend invitations to your employees to attend workshops where they can learn as much as they can about all that pertains to both mental health and resilience.
  • Make it a point to provide your employees with access to apps and other related technology that can assist them with maintaining healthy sleep cycles and reducing the amount of stress they endure because of work.

With all that said, companies such as PwC have disregarded the one-size-fits-all approach to providing benefits. Instead, the company has expanded its list of benefits-related options to include mental health services and access to providers.

As an employer, you should encourage your employees to make use of the benefits offered to them. You can do so by making it a point to normalize conversations regarding mental health in your workplace. Also, do as much as you can to make it as simple as possible for your staff members to take advantage of the mental health services and benefits you are offering them without making them feel uncomfortable.

Also, make sure you offer a wide array of services, and take measures to communicate these services to everyone so that you can ensure they all have equal access to said information. That way, nobody will feel left out because everyone will be included in everything at hand.

From there, request the feedback you need so that you can be sure your employees are fully aware of the benefits; do so in ways that encourage your staff to take advantage of the opportunities and use them to the best of their abilities.

Five Ways to Promote Mental Health in the Workplace

Five Ways to Promote Mental Health in the Workplace

In a survey by McKinsey & Company, 75 percent of employers acknowledged that there’s a stigma around mental health in the workplace. People in the workplace, leaders included, are afraid to speak up about their mental health needs or ask for help. As the McKinsey report notes, employers can’t solve every problem contributing to poor mental health, but there is work they can do to reduce the stigma around mental health and promote healthy behaviors. We recommend these five actions:

  1. When possible, give employees a little extra time to slow down and rest. Employees may need a moment to breathe or a day to regain their peace of mind, and they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for time to take care of themselves. The ability to occasionally function at a medium (or even slow) pace should be built into performance expectations so that employees can avoid burnout or breakdown.
  2. Offer paid time off (PTO), mental health benefits, and flexible schedules if appropriate. In some cases, employees may want to get the mental health care but can’t afford it. Losing pay from a missed work shift might be too great a hardship, and effective treatments might be financially out of reach. These financial hindrances can exacerbate conditions like anxiety and depression. In other cases, employees can afford the time off and the treatments, but they can’t make regular appointments work with their schedules. If you can offer PTO, health insurance benefits, or flexible schedules, these can help employees get the care they need.
  3. Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). An EAP gives employees access to expert, confidential assistance for substance abuse issues, relationship troubles, financial problems, and mental health conditions. These services are offered through an outside provider that connects employees with the appropriate resources and professionals. These programs enable you to provide professional assistance to employees in a confidential manner.
  4. Make reasonable accommodations when possible. If an employee informs you that they have anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition that’s affecting their work, begin the interactive process to determine what reasonable accommodation(s) you can provide in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA applies when an employer has 15 or more employees, but many states have similar laws that require employers to make accommodations at an even lower employee count. You can learn more about the ADA on the HR Support Center.
  5. Promote good mental (and physical) health in the workplace. Healthy habits are important for everyone to practice. Consider setting time aside during the week or month for employees to participate in activities like yoga, meditation, and mindfulness that develop and strengthen these habits. If you aren’t familiar with these practices, solicit the help of your employees. One or more of them may know a lot about these activities and be able to assist you in setting up a workplace program or modifying a program for employees currently working from home.
Biden’s Announcement: Mandatory Vaccinations for Private Employers

Biden’s Announcement: Mandatory Vaccinations for Private Employers

If you have fewer than 100 employees, no federal contracts, and no healthcare workers, these new federal requirements do NOT apply to you.

We are actively monitoring for the details of President Biden’s COVID action plan. The aspects of this new plan that affect HR and how you run your business will come from DOL rules called Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS), written by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA); executive orders (EOs) from the President; and (for healthcare workers) regulations from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). When relevant information becomes available, we will update you via an eAlert and provide information on the HR Support Center. In the meantime, here is what we know:

Employers with 100 or More Employees
Employers that have 100 or more employees will be required to:

  1. Mandate their employees get vaccinated against COVID or submit to weekly testing; and
  2. Provide employees with paid time off to get vaccinated and recover if they experience side effects from the vaccine.

It’s possible that the weekly testing option will be reserved only for those who request testing as an accommodation to mandatory vaccination because of a sincerely held religious belief, disability, or pregnancy. We expect the new ETS to address this.

We don’t yet know if there will be a way for employers to get reimbursed for costs associated with compliance.

Federal Contractors
Federal contractors will be required to mandate vaccination among their employees.

Healthcare Workers
Workers in most healthcare settings will be required to be vaccinated.

Three Questions About COVID Vaccinations

Three Questions About COVID Vaccinations

Can we ask for proof of vaccination? Isn’t this a HIPAA violation or an illegal inquiry under the ADA or somehow confidential information?

Employers can ask for proof of vaccination unless there is a state or local law or order to the contrary.*

When an employer is requesting or reviewing medical information in its capacity as an employer, as it would be when asking about an employee’s vaccination status, it is considered to be an employment record. In such cases, HIPAA would not apply to the employer. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will govern the collection and storage of this information.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces the ADA, has stated that asking about vaccination is not a disability-related inquiry, though it could turn into one if you ask follow-up questions about why the employee is not vaccinated. Asking a yes or no question, or requesting to see the employee’s vaccination card, does not violate any federal laws or require proof that the inquiry is job-related.

Finally, just because employees think that something is or should be private or confidential doesn’t mean they can’t be required to share it with their employer. Social Security numbers, birth dates, and home addresses are all pieces of information an employee may not want to advertise, but sharing is necessary and required for work. Vaccination status is similar. However, all of this information, once gathered, should not be shared by the employer with third parties, except on a need-to-know basis.

*It appears that some governors may attempt to prevent certain entities from requiring “immunity passports” (e.g., proof of vaccination) through an executive order (EO), though as of July 31, none of the EOs already issued appear to apply to private businesses and their employees. Also note that if there is a law in place that prevents treating vaccinated and unvaccinated employees differently (like in Montana), you may be able to ask, but not take any action based on the response.

Should we keep a record of who is vaccinated or make copies of vaccination cards? If we do, how long should we keep that information?

If you’re asking about vaccination status, you’ll want to keep some kind of record (so you don’t have to ask multiple times), but how you do this is up to you, unless state or local law has imposed specific recordkeeping requirements. You may want to keep something simple like a spreadsheet with the employee’s name and a simple “yes” or “no” in the vaccination column. If you’d prefer to make a copy of their vaccination card, that should be kept with other employee medical information, separate from their personnel file. Per OSHA, these records should be kept for 30 years.

If we keep a record of who is vaccinated, can we share it with managers who will be required to enforce policies based on that information, such as masking and social distancing?

Yes. We recommend not sharing this information any more widely than necessary. While anonymized information is okay to share (e.g., “80% of our employees are vaccinated”), each employee’s vaccination status should be treated as confidential, even if the fact that they are wearing a mask to work seems to reveal their status publicly. Obviously, managers will need this information if they are expected to enforce vaccination-dependent policies, and employers should train them on how they should be enforcing the policies and how and when to escalate issues to HR or a higher level of management.

EEOC Publishes Updated COVID Guidance

EEOC Publishes Updated COVID Guidance

As workplaces resume in-person operations, or at least consider doing so, there are many questions about the rules and requirements. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has published a lengthy Q&A to help make sure everyone knows how to proceed. Managers and employees may want to review the entire document, but can get started with some of the key points:

  • Does the ADA allow employers to require employees to stay home if they have symptoms of the COVID-19? Yes. The CDC states that employees who become ill with symptoms of COVID-19 should leave the workplace. The ADA does not interfere with employers following this advice.
  • When employees return to work, does the ADA allow employers to require a doctor’s note certifying fitness for duty? Yes. Such inquiries are permitted under the ADA either because they would not be disability-related or, if the pandemic were truly severe, they would be justified under the ADA standards for disability-related inquiries of employees.
  • Under the ADA, Title VII, and other federal employment nondiscrimination laws, may an employer require all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19? The federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, subject to the reasonable accommodation provisions of Title VII and the ADA and other EEO considerations. As with any employment policy, employers that have a vaccine requirement may need to respond to allegations that the requirement has a disparate impact on—or disproportionately excludes—employees based on their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin under Title VII (or age under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (40+)).
  • What are some examples of reasonable accommodations or modifications that employers may have to provide to employees who do not get vaccinated due to disability; religious beliefs, practices, or observance; or pregnancy? For example, as a reasonable accommodation, an unvaccinated employee entering the workplace might wear a face mask, work at a social distance from coworkers or non-employees, work a modified shift, get periodic tests for COVID-19, be given the opportunity to telework, or finally, accept a reassignment.
  • Under the ADA, may an employer offer an incentive to employees to voluntarily provide documentation or other confirmation that they received a vaccination on their own from a pharmacy, public health department, or other health care provider in the community? Yes.  Requesting documentation or other confirmation showing that an employee received a COVID-19 vaccination in the community is not a disability-related inquiry covered by the ADA.
  • Under the ADA, may an employer offer an incentive to employees for voluntarily receiving a vaccination administered by the employer or its agent? Yes, if any incentive (which includes both rewards and penalties) is not so substantial as to be coercive.  Because vaccinations require employees to answer pre-vaccination disability-related screening questions, a very large incentive could make employees feel pressured to disclose protected medical information.

What’s the Bottom Line?

According to an article from the Society for Human Resource Management, the new guidance contains four key takeaways:

  1. Explore reasonable accommodations.
  2. Carefully consider incentives.
  3. Beware of disparate impact.
  4. Treat vaccination records confidentially.

Again, this article is just a summary. Read the full guidance to make sure you’re in compliance, and consult qualified professionals for your particular situation.

Can We Still Require That Employees Wear Masks?

Can We Still Require That Employees Wear Masks?

Can we still require that employees wear masks?

You can, yes. While the CDC has announced that those who are vaccinated against COVID-19 may go without a mask in most places, private employers still have the right to enforce mask wearing policies in their own workplaces, regardless of employees’ or customers’ vaccination status. State and local rules also still apply.

Content courtesy of the HR Support Center –