The last time I wrote an article about whether employers would and how employers should support disaster-struck workers was after Kartrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi.
Last time, for me, the topic was important but mysterious. At that point, the closest I'd been to a disaster was the big blackout that struck in 2003. It was spooky, but, by the time I walked home from Hoboken, N.J., with my baby, feeling like a bedraggled refugee, the power in my home was already on. My worst experience then was that I had to re-remember how to reset our microwave oven.
This time around, even though I live in Jersey City, N.J., which has been assaulted by Hurricane Sandy, the closest I've personally really come to disaster is that our hot water heater is out. But, this time around, I'm hearing a lot more stories about how the disaster is affecting workers and their families.
Mary (the names and details are changed to protect people's privacy) has been on a successful diet for almost a year. Today, she justified eating food that was completely off her diet by blaming Hurricane Sandy, even though she has access to plenty of food that's on her diet.
Joe biked around -- past police barricades and yellow police tape, through oily water -- to find out what was going on and make some effort to rescue storm-battered boats. He worked hard for two days, but, while biking around, he heard people stuck in flooded apartments in Hoboken shouting out their windows for help. Now he has given up on rescuing boats and lies in boat watching TV.
Cindy has plenty of energy, but she also has a full-time job, three small children and 12 feet of water in her ground floor apartment. A crew is pumping water out of the apartment. Cindy is facing the disaster version of the "sandwich generation" story. She's not juggling work, child care and elder care, but work, child care and contractor care.
Aidan, the 10-year-old son of a full-time office worker, got through Sandy itself without a whimper, but now he's afraid to go outside. He'd like to spend the rest of his life inside playing computer games, thank you very much.
The there are the workers who have been living without electricity since Monday, are running low on gasoline, have no cell phone service, and feel abandoned by the universe.
Meanwhile, many of these people are suddenly using chain saws and diesel generators for the first time, without having easy access to Internet how-to materials.
These conditions seem to be perfect for producing short-term disability depression claims, long-term disability (LTD) depression and post-traumatic stress syndrom (PTSD) claims, all kinds of LTD-claim-producing medical problems, and, certainly, accidental death and dismemberment (AD&D) claims.
Then there's absence. How do you manage absence when workers have no electricity or telephone service, no gasoline, and little access to functional mass transit, and the workplace itself has no electricity?
Mental Health America has some resources on its website that could help employers and producers.
The association gives the following tips for coping with the effect of a natural disaster:
- Spend time with friends and family.
- Get plenty of rest and exercise, and eat properly.
- Limit exposure to images of the disaster.
- Find time for activities you enjoy.
- Do something positive, such as giving blood, to give yourself a sense of control.
- Take tasks one small step at a time, to make the tasks seem less overwhelming.
- Ask for help from a mental health professional when you need it.
Many employee assistance program (EAP) providers offer crisis counseling services.
ComPsych, for example, says it can help employers with matters such as creating an 800 line for displaced employees, providing counseling over the phone, and helping affected workers locate food, water and supplies.