Looking Out for Vulnerable Populations during the Pandemic

Epidemics are historically associated with a rise in depression, anxiety and stress, and as COVID-19 continues to spread, it is normal for your employees to experience many of these feelings. Particular stressors may include uncertainty about financial or job security, loss of productivity due to family commitments and, of course, worrying about one’s own health or the health of a loved one. People from all socioeconomic groups may struggle to cope financially, mentally or physically – but three populations that are particularly vulnerable right now are pregnant women, victims of domestic violence and families balancing job duties on top of primary caregiving responsibilities.

Most employers, if not all, will have some employees in each of these populations. It’s critical for organizations to communicate information and provide mental health support for all employees that may be struggling, but a focused effort on making specific services and resources available to people facing these special challenges will help mitigate the impact of the epidemic. The key is communicating with employees so that they are aware of the resources that are accessible.

Pregnant women If possible, provide an adaptive work environment or alternate job duties to remove pregnant women from front-line responsibilities. Employers also can:

  • Provide a cash advance or lump sum salary continuance prior to leave
  • Communicate telemedicine options for prenatal care, at home monitoring, specialist consultation and lactation support
  • Utilize reliable safe information such as March of Dimes or ACOG
  • Providing emotional support tools – EAP, resiliency and virtual support groups

Domestic violence victims Domestic violence, as measured by police reports or hotline calls, has surged by 18% to 30% in every country or state impacted by the virus. Employers can:

  • Acknowledge it and assist in sharing information about available resources, including crisis lines and shelters so that workers know help is available
  • Provide EAP and behavioral health programming or encourage your employees to reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233)

Workers with caregiving responsibilities Between disrupted education, illness and loss of support systems, employees are struggling to balance primary caregiving responsibilities and the needs of their job. Employers can:

  • Provide supportive programs, flexible work arrangements and lenient policies to alleviate the burden
  • Provide credit or reimbursement for virtual tutorial, home school teaching resources and entertainment care packages
  • Recommend reliable information sources such as American Academia of Pediatrics
  • Provide hospice and palliative care support via the EAP

A good place to start is by providing managers and supervisors with information and skills to recognize when employees – especially the most vulnerable -- are having difficulty coping, and to help them find help. Taking an empathetic approach, listening to you people and providing support and resources will help employees stay positive, connected and committed during this very difficult time. For additional information, watch the recording from last week’s webinar where Sandra Kuhn discusses the behavioral health impacts related to COVID-19 and how employers can help address employees’ mental health needs.

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