COVID anxiety: What if workers don't want to return?

AuthorHyman, Jon
PositionWHAT I WOULDN'T DO: Legal Updates from HR's Trenches.

Have you heard of COVID Anxiety Syndrome? It's a psychological syndrome related to people who are reacting irrationally by continuing extreme COVID mitigation measures when they are no longer needed. Professor Marcantonio Spada of London South Bank University, who helped coin the phrase, says:

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 reengagement and constantly worrying about the virus for months to come, whether they are vaccinated or not.

Do you have employees experiencing such behavior? 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?

Most importantly, 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 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 return to the workplace, then I'd suggest an employer' responsibility to accommodate that employee has come to an...

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