Work Stress in the Age of COVID: What Can We Do?

Photo by Juanmonino (iStockPhoto)

Work stress during the pandemic

Illustration by Iryna Alekseienko (iStockPhoto)
February 2021 tweet re: Jacobin Mag story on poultry workers

What research shows

Stressors affect the function of the immune system by increasing inflammatory cytokines which have also been linked to more severe outcomes of COVID-19.

Making work healthier matters now more than ever.

  • Collective bargaining/union organizing: Members of the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) faced major physical, mental, and emotional challenges at the height of the pandemic in New York. In the midst of the pandemic, an emergency policy was enacted by the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) that restricted the nurses’ sick leave (presumably to compensate for a shortage of nursing staff). Paid sick leave (paid time off from work) allows workers to stay home and recover from illness, to reduce their burnout from understaffing or overtime, or to protect other workers from contracting an illness from a sick co-worker. The union organized a “COVID Action Team” Zoom meeting city-wide. Within two days of petitioning the mayor’s office, the HHC ended the policy.
May 2021 Tweet: NY Nurses Association member speaking
  • Laws & regulations: While several states (VA, MI, CA, NJ) took the initiative earlier in the pandemic to protect workers through executive orders or a state OSHA infectious disease “emergency temporary standard” (ETS), there is no federal standard. However, after pressure from various health & safety advocacy groups, a federal OSHA infectious disease ETS has just been sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review, and we need to push the Biden administration for its immediate approval. An ETS is enforceable and will require all employers to protect workers adequately from current and future (airborne) infectious disease epidemics, by requiring masks, social distancing and effective ventilation. These kinds of regulations can reduce worker concerns about COVID-19 exposure at their workplace, and give them a mechanism for reporting employers who are not in compliance with the standard.
  • Workers Compensation: As of December 9, 2020, 17 states and Puerto Rico had extended workers’ compensation coverage of COVID-19 as a work-related illness for various workers. Despite these laws and orders that provide greater access to workers’ compensation for COVID-19, many claims continue to be held up or denied. Allowing workers who are ill to recover at home without loss of wages is essential to reduce worker stress related to economic insecurity, as well as to protect co-workers from further infection.
  • Community organizations are advocating for their members and working to establish guidelines for safe re-opening of workplaces, to protect both consumers and workers. For example, the California Healthy Nail Salon Alliances has released guidelines limiting the number of people in the salon, frequent and thorough disinfection between clients, reducing the amount of services offered to clients, as well as the right to refuse service for anyone who has been exposed to or is showing symptoms of the virus. These guidelines limit workload as well as exposure to the virus.
  • Public Health Councils: In November 2020, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a program for workers to form public health councils to help ensure employers follow COVID health & safety guidelines. Nonprofits and unions will train council members on health & safety protocols and how to report violations. Involving workers in addressing their health & safety concerns gives them greater “job control” and allows them to influence employer policies and is therefore potentially health protective.

Healthy work and healthy workplaces

#healthywork #healthypeople




Stories from the Healthy Work Campaign

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Healthy Work Now

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