Here’s an idea to promote employee mental health during COVID-19.

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photo by Natasha Spencer from Pexels

Late last week, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its technical assistance on what employers should know about COVID-19 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I went ahead and highlighted for you the updated portions of the EEOC Guidance. But, it’s a piece of advice that the EEOC provided earlier this month that I’d like to call out for you:

If an employee has a preexisting mental illness or disorder that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, may he now be entitled to a reasonable accommodation (absent undue hardship)? (4/9/20)

Although many people feel significant stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, employees with certain preexisting mental health conditions, for example, anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder, may have more difficulty handling the disruption to daily life that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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 and enable him to keep working; explore alternative accommodations that may effectively meet his needs; and request medical documentation if needed. 

Now, rather than talk further about the ADA and an employer’s legal obligations to accommodate an employee with a disability, I’m going to skip that here. Indeed, I’m going to remove my employment law hat altogether.

A Lean In Initiative.

Instead, I’d like to share with you another way to help meet the needs of employees who may have more difficulty handling the disruption to daily life that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic.

But first, some context.

Most of you know that I work for FisherBroyles, LLP. FisherBroyles is the world’s first and largest distributed, full-service law firm partnership. The distributed (cloud-based) nature of our partnership allows us to work wherever and whenever clients need us. We leverage talent and technology instead of real estate.

But even though teleworking is part of our DNA, we’re not immune to the unusual circumstances we face where many of us must shelter in place.

That’s why we have adopted a “Lean In Initiative,” which you may want to consider for your law firm or, really, any business that relies on employee telework now.

At FisherBroyles, our management team wants to make sure that our partners are not only in a good financial place to make it through this pandemic, but are also safe and healthy, as well as connected to others. The Lean In Initiative supports these goals by creating consistent partner-to-partner relationships where they may not exist from work collaboration or a recruiting relationship. This is something that my employment law partner, Amy Epstein Gluck, has extolled for a while. So, it’s great to see this come to fruition.

How it works.

Partners pair up with other partners — we’re all partners here, no associates — and check-in with one another at least once a week to make sure all is well.

It’s that simple. We have a ‘buddy system.’

Participation is entirely voluntary. For those who choose to participate, privacy continues to be at each participant’s discretion. We just want to make sure that there is a channel for sharing any concerns or needs during these times.

Some of us will contact partner(s) with whom we already frequently communicate. I do that because there’s only so much that I can or care to discuss with my 10-year-old about his Madden ’20 football team, or his younger sisters’ and brother’s binging Netflix for Kids content.

Additionally, I’ve signed up for the Firm to pair me with a random partner. And if, for some reason, there’s no match, one of our founding partners, James Fisher or Kevin Broyles, will check in with that partner weekly. (Note to self: don’t say “jawn” and don’t diss SEC football if Kevin calls me.) Plus, our other practice group leaders and other members of leadership are always available to help in any way that they can as our partners navigate any challenges that they may face.

Maybe it can work for your business too.

It takes a village — at least that’s what everyone keeps telling me — and we consider each partner and employee an extension of our families. And, as some have quipped, if we can survive our immediate families, with whom we have been quarantined for six weeks, we have faith that we can help our extended family deal with anything.

But, this arrangement isn’t unique to FisherBroyles. Indeed, maybe something like this can benefit teleworking employees in your company too.

Do you like this idea? Is your business doing something else positive to support employee health during the pandemic?

Email me and let me know.

 

“Doing What’s Right – Not Just What’s Legal”
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