Thursday, May 6, 2021

Coronavirus Update 5-6-2021: Do your employees have “Covid anxiety syndrome”?

The Telegraph recently tweeted about what is being called "Covid anxiety syndrome." The whole thread is a fascinating read, but its bottom line is that some people are reacting irrationally by continuing extreme Covid mitigation measures when they are no longer needed.

The Guardian quotes professor Marcantonio Spada London South Bank University, who first theorized this syndrome after noticing people were developing a particular set of traits in response to Covid.
Fear is normal. You and I are supposed to fear the virus because it's dangerous. The difference, however, in terms of developing a psychopathological response is whether you end up behaving in … overly safe ways that lock you into the fear. My expectation is we're going to have … chunks of the population that are avoiding re-engagement and constantly worrying about the virus for months to come, whether they are vaccinated or not.

So here's my question for you — do you have employees experiencing such behavior? Continuing to insist on remote work even after being fully vaccinated? Wearing a mask all of the time, even when alone in an office? Insisting on constantly wiping down surfaces as if they are disinfecting a crime scene? 

I'd like to focus on the former. What do you do with an employee who insists on working from home after you recall people to in-person work? 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I've preached flexibility and meeting employees where they are, within reason. And I agree that flexibility is key. But flexibility works both ways. If an employee is vaccinated, or eligible to be vaccinated and choosing not to be, and opts to isolate at home instead of starting to reintegrate into society, then I'd suggest that an employer's responsibility to accommodate that employee has come to an end.

Now, this lack of accommodation does have its limits. If an employee presents a doctor's note seeking work-from-home as a continuing reasonable accommodation for a physical or mental impairment, then we're in ADA land, and you must engage in the interactive process to determine whether that employee can still perform the essential function of the job while working remotely. If it's been working well for the past year, then the accommodation might be reasonable. If, however, it has not been working well, then I hope you have documentation of the performance or other problems so that you can back up your need to end the remote-work arrangement with that employee.

We all have our own comfort levels with Covid and our personal risk related to the virus. I'm fully vaccinated, yet not in any rush to go back to dining in restaurants, for example. We still need to meet employees where they are, within reason, but employees must do that same as we crawl out of the dark hole into which Covid dumped us in March 2020.

* Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash