Show must go on: helping employees in crisis

ORLANDO  The 70th annual Tony Awards were held on Sunday night to recognize achievements in Broadway productions over the past year.  The excitement and enthusiasm of the occasion were dampened, however, as many presenters and award recipients gave words of tribute to the victims of Orlando’s mass-shooting that occurred earlier that morning.  I live and work in Orlando, not far from where the massacre occurred, and my heart is heavy as I write this post. In light of such a horrific event, what can I possibly say about employment law and entertainment? What witticisms can I offer in such a time as this? There are none. But as I was watching the Tony Awards, I was reminded of the theater world’s mantra:  Even in times of turmoil and upheaval, the show must go on.

Unfortunately, all of us must deal with a crisis at some point in our lives, whether it occurs in the form of a national tragedy or more personal issues such as medical problems, financial distress, or the loss of a loved one or relationship.  Although you cannot prevent these issues from affecting your employees, you can help them through a crisis in a way that will keep your business on track.

In an Inc.com article titled “Helping Your Employees in a Time of Crisis,” HR professional Suzanne Lucas suggests several ways that managers can assist employees in the midst of a life crisis, including showing empathy, referring workers to an employee assistance program (EAP), and complying with employment laws that may protect the employees.

Show empathy and compassion

First, it should go without saying but the most important thing you can do as a human resources professional or manager to help an employee who is grappling with a major life problem is to show empathy and compassion.  If you know an employee’s attendance or performance is being negatively affected by a personal crisis, you should first trying talking to the employee to find out what the employee needs to bring his or her performance back up to an acceptable level. Using threats of discipline or discharge will serve  only to alienate the employee and cause the performance to deteriorate further. Of course, there may come a point when it’s necessary to discipline an employee for violating company policy, but that should not be your initial, knee-jerk reaction for dealing with an individual in the throes of a crisis.

Refer employee to EAP

Second, if you know or suspect that an employee is having problems, you should refer the individual to an EAP.  Many employers have EAPs that offer counseling and legal services 24 hours a day to struggling employees. By making the referral to the EAP, employers can help the employee seek help in a confidential manner while protecting the employer from the legal risks associated with becoming too involved in the details of an employee’s personal life.

Follow the law

Third, when you are interacting with an employee who is going through a major life problem, such as a divorce or medical diagnosis, employers must follow the law.  Depending on the size of your company, an employee may be entitled to take medical, family, or disability leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to obtain medical treatment or counseling, deal with episodes of depression and anxiety, or help a loved one who is suffering from a serious medical condition. Also, even if an employee’s situation doesn’t fall within the parameters of the FMLA or ADA, you should consider using other methods, such as bereavement or personal leave, to enable the employee to survive the crisis without forfeiting his or her job.

At work, as on stage, the show must go on. By following these steps, you can help your employees navigate through a time of crisis without disrupting your business.


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