When most people think of essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, they typically think of first responders or healthcare workers on the frontline battling the virus. However, people in the foodservice industry and grocery store workers are also essential employees who are beginning to show signs of the mental toll that the extended pandemic is causing.
According to a November 2020 report out of the University of Arizona, roughly 20% of surveyed grocery store workers are beginning to experience symptoms of mental distress as they’re working through the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of those surveyed cited the reasoning behind their mental distress is caused by the behavior of customers.
From the survey data, the lead author of the University of Arizona School of Sociology report, associate professor Brian Mayer, concluded that “[t]he mental health of these workers was much worse than we thought.”
Previous surveys of essential workers returned results that were much less severe than we’re now seeing. With the total of essential workers stating they’re suffering mentally due to the pandemic is 2 to 3 times higher than other surveys.
The survey Mayer helped to conduct was performed in collaboration with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 99. This organization represents almost half of all Arizona grocery store employees. Additionally, the survey had 3,996 participants during the height of the first wave of the pandemic this summer.
This survey is unique among the numerous other surveys being conducted because it places a focus on those working in retail and/or the service industries rather than focusing on healthcare workers.
The report showed that retail employees are concerned about the safety measures that the state has put in place. Their concern is especially strong amongst the safety measures surrounding the behaviors of customers. Participants noted that they’re stressed, as well as experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Additionally, those surveyed also responded that their overall health was worse, with the data showing overall health was less than the averages reported before the pandemic started.
Not only did the survey highlight areas of concern for the workers, but it also shows how these workers have been impacted financially—particularly the need for additional compensation for those taking on increased risks.
Also noted were recommendations to help make retail workers’ lives easier, which included:
- More training for supervisors and employees on safety measures
- Ensuring employees have access to mental health resources and health care
- Encouraging customers comply with safety policies
As we’re moving into the second phase of the pandemic (distribution of the vaccine), the results of this survey highlights the continued need for services that support both mental health and social service needs, as well as more efforts to ensure that employees are safe while at work.
Mayers feels that the results of the survey show that workers are anxious and simply want verification that their employer is keeping them safe while they’re working. Unfortunately, the data shows that many companies aren’t doing enough.
Survey results by the numbers
- 28% of survey participants noted mild mental health changes
- 17% noted moderate mental health changes
- 20% reported severe mental health changes
- 62% of grocery store workers stated they felt safe working during the pandemic
- 54% stated they believe their employer is doing a good job of keeping them safe at work
- 18% believe their personal protective equipment training is sufficient
- Those who noted being trained in proper PPE usage were twice as likely to feel safe while at work than those who did not receive efficient training
- 55% noted they felt they could be verbally threatened by customers who are angry about mask mandates
- 1/3rd of participants noted they didn’t have a reliable source of food, even while employed
- 26% of those with children noted they’ve missed at least 1 house payment
Grocery store workers and workers’ compensation
In Arizona, grocery store workers who are injured on the job are eligible for workers’ compensation. This means that under normal circumstances, if a worker is injured, they would be eligible for benefits to help tie them over while they’re healing.
As the nation moved into the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020, the Industrial Commission of Arizona issued guidance regarding COVID-19 claims saying that workers’ comp insurance carriers should not outright deny these cases automatically.
Rather, insurance companies and claims representatives who are authorized to handle workers’ comp claims are required to review and investigate any COVID-19 claim that comes in the same way they’d handle other claims: in good faith.
Additionally, those who have COVID-related damages must go through the same channels with their employer as they would if they were physically hurt while on the job. If you filed a claim seeking benefits for your virus-related damages, therefore, your boss’s workers’ comp insurer must process it as it would any other workers’ compensation claim.
This means that employees who fall ill must be able to prove they became infected with COVID-19 through the course of their employment by providing the following information:
- Doctor’s letter(s)
- Eyewitness statements
- Information from an employer
- Medical documentation
You can still be denied workers’ compensation for becoming infected with COVID-19; however, those working in high-risk fields (such as healthcare) will have a better chance of receiving benefits.
To ensure that your employer’s insurance company actually investigates your claim in good faith, it is beneficial to hire an experienced Arizona workers’ compensation attorney. Insurance companies are likely to be inundated by claims and could make efforts to delay and deny claims to save their company money.
Hiring a firm who specializes in workers’ compensation, like the Law Offices of Robert E. Wisniewski, can help ensure that your claim is taken seriously. Contact one of our experienced attorneys today for your free consultation. We will review your case and, if you’re eligible, help you file for and secure the compensation you deserve.