Conflict in Ukraine is Causing Workers Severe Anxiety

The Conflict in Ukraine Is Causing Some Workers Severe Anxiety; Employers Can Help

Consider issuing a statement acknowledging how the crisis is affecting employees

By Stephen Miller, CEBSMarch 2, 2022


The Conflict in Ukraine Is Causing Some Workers Severe Anxiety; Employers Can Help

[updated on 3/8/22]

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the spiraling humanitarian crisis has captured attention worldwide. Concern over the tragedy is understandable, but employers should also be aware that for some workers, the levels of stress, anxiety and depression associated with constant news updates about the conflict can be severe enough to require counseling through employer-provided resources such as employee assistance programs (EAPs). Other workers are looking for employers to provide a channel for employees to contribute humanitarian assistance.FEATURED RESOURCE PAGENavigating International Crises

SHRM Online has compiled the following articles on how the crisis is affecting employees and how employers can respond.

Offer Ways to Help

Melissa Swift, U.S .transformation leader at HR consultancy Mercer, advised: “It’s natural to be distressed by what we’re seeing and many people are wondering what they can do to alleviate the suffering of those directly affected. Helping others has been proven to improve mental health and well-being and there are countless ways to help with the crisis in Ukraine. Provide a list of credible charities and organizations that are accepting donations and consider matching your employees’ donations.

“While the impact of this crisis will be experienced differently by each employee, employers can make a meaningful difference. Let employees know what you are doing to support the people of Ukraine, even if you don’t have operations there. Beyond that, flexibility, supportive leadership, and thoughtful communications can help those affected directly and indirectly know that you care.”


Conflict in Ukraine Triggers Fresh Round of Anxiety

After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and with mask rules easing, life seemed like it might soon return to normal. That thread of hope was snapped when Russian troops attacked Ukraine, sparking fears of a global conflict.

Pain, sadness and confusion have swept across social media, with people expressing shock and frustration at the unfolding crisis and mounting casualty count. Many said they felt powerless to help.

Will the U.S. send more troops abroad? Will the country be attacked? Will we see nuclear war? It’s all upsetting and scary.

(Los Angeles Times)

Talk About Fear at Work

Even if employers don’t know exactly the right thing to say, they can express their support, said Melissa Doman, organizational psychologist and the author of Yes, You Can Talk About Mental Health at Work (Welbeck Balance, 2021). She advised employers and others to acknowledge what’s happening even if the crisis in Ukraine doesn’t seem to impact their business.

Doman recommends a statement along these lines: “We’re conscious of the fact that this might be impacting people in different ways throughout our company, and we want you to know that it’s OK to talk about this.”

Ultimately, this creates a space for conversation, she said, and employees can feel comfortable voicing their concerns (especially if they are personally affected by the crisis) so that the doors are opened for action—if employees want to band together to raise money for a charitable organization, for instance.


Encourage Employees Not to ‘Doomscroll’

Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, says doomscrolling—becoming fixated on monitoring news of an ongoing crisis—is essentially a coping mechanism where you try to gain control over a situation by getting as much information as you can. But doomscrolling can be especially draining when people can’t channel the information into direct action.

“Many of us have little to no influence on the conflict in Ukraine at the moment,” Mendoza-Denton said. Instead, people can focus on what they can do, even if it’s small. He pointed to resources to donate to humanitarian efforts here and in Ukraine, for instance. He also advised setting healthy boundaries with news coverage, which could mean tuning the TV in your office common area to a non-news channel.


Pay Attention to Workers Most at Risk

“We now have compounding forms of trauma impacting us as a general population, with those who have experienced prior trauma more likely to experience severe anxiety or distress,” said Susan Rees, a professor in the School of Clinical Medicine at The University of New South Wales (UNSW Sydney) in Australia.

Ukrainian immigrants and others with family in Ukraine, as well as people with refugee backgrounds, may be at greatest risk as they empathize with the imminent threat posed to Ukrainian people.  For combat veterans, the crisis in Ukraine could trigger visceral reminders of conflict, death and destruction. “These triggers can be associated with exacerbation or new onset of anxiety disorders or depressive states,” Rees said.

She advised counseling people who are dealing with heightened anxiety over the humanitarian crisis to:

  • Consider limiting your exposure to media coverage of war and conflict. Alternatively, if you feel that you need to know more about the situation, make sure your sources are balanced and considered rather than gratuitous and graphic.
  • Focus on activities you can control. Sticking to a routine can be helpful in times of uncertainty and can help add structure and a sense of predictability to your day. 

(UNSW Sydney)

Take Steps to Support Mental Health and Well-Being

The conflict in Ukraine has many people on edge. The source and severity of reactions will differ, but as an employer, this is an opportunity to show care and concern for workers. Consider these five steps to support employees affected by the crisis:

1. Recognize that workers may be experiencing real challenges and commit to compassion. Whether in a message from your CEO or senior leadership, or through an all-staff town hall or other discussion forum, let employees know you’re offering support.

2. Create a psychologically safe environment for workers to discuss what they’re experiencing. Encouraging workplace conversations about real-world issues affecting employees can strengthen your company’s culture and help workers feel supported. As always, set clear ground rules for civil discourse at work.

3. Educate your workforce to recognize signs of distress in colleagues. Look for changes that are not typical for a person in appearance, behavior, mood and related issues.

4. Provide support to managers and give space for flexibility. Remind managers to check-in with their teams and to be aware that the overseas conflict may be impacting employees.

5. Remind workers of the resources available to them. Use check-ins and conversations that may arise about the conflict as opportunities to share your company’s mental health benefits and EAP offerings.

(Health Action Alliance, One Mind, the SHRM Foundation, and the Center for Workplace Mental Health)

Remind Employees to Use Mental Health Benefits

Many workers are still mystified by EAPs and other employer-provided support services. “Communicating about what benefits are offered and how they can be used is the first step,” said Kara Hoogensen, senior vice president of specialty benefits at Principal, a global financial investment management and insurance company.

Employers can highlight how EAPs work by providing examples of the types of support EAPs offer and describing how they can be used, she said.

“Often, employees think these services are only available for crisis situations,” Hoogensen noted. “However, EAP benefits can help employees navigate stress and anxiety about general concerns they encounter. … It’s also important to emphasize the confidential nature of mental health programs accessed through an EAP so employees feel more comfortable using them.”

(SHRM Online)

How can you help?
The International Committee of the Red Cross remains active in Ukraine, saving and protecting the lives of victims of armed conflict and violence. Its neutral and impartial humanitarian action supports the most vulnerable people, and your donation will make a huge difference to families in need right now. Donate here.


Brandon Long Article on DOL Focus on Mental Health Parity Compliance – Click Below:

Where Kamala Harris Stands on Workers’ Pay and Benefits

On Aug. 11, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced his selection of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., as his vice-presidential running mate. SHRM Online has gathered the following articles about positions Harris has taken on issues relating to pay and benefits for private-sector U.S. employees. While these are not positions endorsed by the Biden-Harris campaign, they reveal Harris’ thinking and suggest the policies she would be likely to champion in a Democratic administration.

A Program to Eliminate the Gender Wage Gap

During her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Harris proposed a 1 percent profit fine on employers for every 1 percent wage differential between men and women performing comparable work. Companies with 100 or more employees would have to receive an “equal pay certification” every two years under a new federal program headed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The campaign expected the fines to total $180 billion in the first decade, which would fund a new employee paid family and medical leave benefit.
(Politicoand New York Times)

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Pay Equity]

Medicare Advantage for All

Shortly before the July Democratic primary debates, Harris released a health care proposal that would allow a role for private insurers along the lines of the current Medicare Advantage program, but that would prohibit employer-sponsored health plans except for supplemental coverage. Her proposal would allow the transition to a so-called single-payer system over 10 years. Harris’ position stopped short of the full-scale health care overhaul embodied by the Medicare for All legislation sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., which Harris had previously co-sponsored.
(Associated Press via U.S. News & World Report)

Six Months of Paid Leave

Harris proposed making six months of paid leave available to all workers, including part-time employees, self-employed workers and independent contractors. The plan would allow low- and middle-income workers making less than $75,000 a year to receive full wage replacement during their leave, with benefits phased down for higher-income households. Workers on leave would have protection from retaliation.

Harris proposed creating a new Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave to oversee the program, to be funded through a “combination of employer and employee payroll contributions and government expenditures paid for by tax increases on the top one percent and big corporations,” according to her presidential campaign.

Retirement Security Initiatives

In Feb. 2019, Harris co-sponsored legislation to expand Social Security benefits and “strengthen the retirement program for generations to come,” according to a statement from her Senate website.

The legislation, the Social Security Expansion Act, would increase benefits by about $1,342 a year for seniors now making less than $16,000 annually and increase cost-of-living adjustments by tying these to the spending patterns of seniors.

“In the richest nation in the world, it is a travesty that so many Americans are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living,” Harris said.

In 2017, Harris sharply criticized a vote by the GOP-majority Senate to roll back Obama-era regulations that made it easier for states such as California to set up and administer state-run workplace retirement savings programs with automatic payroll deduction into individual retirement accounts, for employees of private-sector companies that don’t offer their own 401(k) or similar plan. The regulatory safe harbor had pre-empted these state-run programs from some Employee Retirement Income Security Act obligations. Despite the rollback of those regulations, CalSavers and similar programs in other states have survived legal challenges.

COVID-19 Relief

In May, Harris co-sponsored a bill for COVID-19 economic relief that would have paid $2,000 per adult ($4,000 for couples who file jointly) plus $2,000 per each dependent, up to three. The payments would have been retroactive to March 1, 2020. 

If passed, a family of five would have received a $40,000 check covering March, April, May, and June.
(Fast Company)

Benefits Considerations for Onboarding Furloughed and Laid Off Employees

Steps to take when re-enrolling returning employees in benefit plans

COVID-19 continues to throw us curveballs. While some states that were continuing on their path to recovery are having to backtrack, others have managed to temporarily halt the progression of COVID-19 and are proceeding as planned.

Amidst all this uncertainty, one thing is certain: human resource professionals continue to face overwhelming obstacles. Below, we outline issues that human resource professionals are likely to face as they onboard furloughed and laid-off employees.

Onboarding Furloughed Employees


For employees enrolled in one or more employer sponsored health and welfare plans and receiving coverage during the furlough period:

  • Payroll deductions for required employee contributions for the plan generally resume upon return from furlough, subject to any changes in employment status that may affect eligibility.
  • To the extent repayment of employee contributions advanced during the furlough period is required, consider how to collect the employee contributions (e.g., through payroll deduction or otherwise), keeping in mind state law requirements related to payroll deductions.
  • Consider the extent to which election changes may be made upon return from furlough.

For employees not enrolled in an employer-sponsored health and welfare plan during the furlough period (or enrolled in COBRA continuation coverage):

  • Determine when eligibility for the plan resumes in accordance with plan terms (e.g., immediately or after a waiting period), subject to any impact on eligibility due to changes in employment status.
  • Consider the process for enrolling employees and the extent to which election changes may be made upon return from furlough, including any HIPAA special enrollment rights.

In addition:

  • Evaluate the impact of the furlough on employees’ full-time status under the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) lookback measurement period and stability period requirements.
  • Evaluate the impact of return from furlough on participation in wellness program activities and eligibility for wellness program incentives.
  • To the extent employees will have staggered work schedules, consider entitlement to benefits based on reduced hours (full time/part time) or new job requirements and whether any plan amendments are needed.

401(K) PLANS

Generally, employee and company contributions resume upon return from furlough; however, changes in job titles or positions may affect eligibility:

  • Determine whether employee and company contributions will resume immediately upon return from furlough based on elections in place immediately before the furlough period or whether new elections will be required.
  • Determine the extent to which legally required notices relating to plan participation must be provided.
  • Address the treatment of loan repayments upon return from furlough.
  • Determine the extent to which the period of furlough must be counted for purposes of plan eligibility, vesting and the right to allocation of contributions.


  • Consider whether changes in job titles or positions may affect eligibility for continued participation upon return from furlough.
  • Review plan terms to determine the extent to which the period of furlough must be counted for purposes of plan eligibility, vesting and benefit accrual.


  • Consider the impact of return from furlough on any commuter benefits (parking and transit).
  • Consider the impact of return from furlough on vacation and holiday accrual.

Onboarding Laid-Off Employees


  • Treat rehired employees who have been laid off as new hires who must complete new hire paperwork for health and welfare plan eligibility.
  • Consider the impact of the termination of employment and rehire on the employee’s status as a full-time employee under the ACA’s lookback measurement period and stability period requirements.


  • Defer to plan terms and break-in-service rules for purposes of determining the impact of the layoff on plan eligibility, vesting and benefit accrual.
  • Review plan terms and procedures for enrolling rehired employees in a 401(k) plan, including application of the plan’s auto-enrollment feature, if any.

Rebecca AlperinMamta K. ShahLisa K. ShallueLynne Wakefield and Emily D. Zimmer are attorneys with law firm Troutman Pepper. This article is abridged from a longer version, “COVID-19 Resource Guide for Human Resources Professionals: Employee Benefits Considerations for Reopening in 2020,” posted on the firm’s website. © 2020 Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission.

Final Regulations Loosen 401(k) Hardship Distribution Requirements

September 25, 2019 IRS issues 2019 to 2020 per-diem rates for traveling away from home September 24, 2019 Safe harbor allows QBI deduction for rental real estate businesses August 22, 2019 Proposed regs. govern maximum automobile values TOPICS Tax Employee Benefits Individual Income Taxation The IRS has amended the requirements for hardship distributions from Sec. 401(k) plans (T.D. 9875). The final regulations, issued on Friday, eliminate the requirements that plan participants take loans from the plan to the extent they are available before they are permitted to take a hardship distribution from the plan and that participants may not make new contributions to the plan within six months of the hardship distribution. They also change the casualty loss hardship distribution rules for disaster relief and the rules for determining the amount of plan funds available for distribution, while clarifying the requirement that funds not be available from other sources. Many of these changes were necessitated by amendments to the Code, including changes made by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, P.L. 115-123 (BBA). The final regulations eliminate the rules in existing Regs. Sec. 1.401(k)-1(d)(3)(iv)(B) (under which the determination of whether a distribution is necessary to satisfy a financial need is based on all the relevant facts and circumstances) and provide one general standard for determining whether a distribution is necessary. A distribution is not treated as necessary to satisfy an employee’s immediate and heavy financial need if the need may be relieved from other resources that are “reasonably available” to the employee (including assets of the employee’s spouse and minor children that are reasonably available to the employee). Under the new regulations, a distribution is treated as necessary to satisfy an immediate and heavy financial need of an employee only to the extent that: •The amount of the distribution is not in excess of the amount required to satisfy the financial need (including any amounts necessary to pay any federal, state, or local income taxes or penalties reasonably anticipated to result from the distribution); •The employee has obtained all other currently available distributions (including distributions of ESOP dividends under Sec. 404(k), but not hardship distributions) under the plan and all other deferred compensation plans, whether qualified or nonqualified, maintained by the employer; •The employee has provided the plan administrator with a written representation that he or she has insufficient cash or other liquid assets reasonably available to satisfy the need; and •The plan administrator does not have actual knowledge that is contrary to the representation. The employer may rely on the employee’s representation (unless the employer has actual knowledge to the contrary) that the need cannot reasonably be relieved from other specified resources. The final regulations also modify the safe-harbor list of expenses in existing Regs. Sec. 1.401(k)-1(d)(3)(iii)(B) for which distributions are deemed to be made on account of an immediate and heavy financial need. Casualty loss hardship Because the casualty loss rules were amended by the law known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, P.L.115-97, so that taxpayers only qualify for a casualty loss deduction if they are in a federally declared disaster area, the new regulations provide that only disaster-related expenses and losses of an employee who lived or worked in the disaster area will qualify for the new safe harbor, and the expenses and losses of the employee’s relatives and dependents will not, unlike under the IRS’s disaster relief provisions. The BBA’s changes to the hardship distribution rules apply to plan years beginning after Dec. 31, 2018. The IRS provided flexible rules for the various effective dates in the regulations because of the necessity for plan amendments to implement the new rules. — Sally P. Schreiber, J.D., ( is a JofA senior editor.

Final Regs Loosen 401(k) Hardship Distribution Rules

Medical Maijuana Rules Go Into Effect Friday!

 Published in McAfee & Taft EmployerLINC Alert |August 27, 2019

 New medical marijuana rules When Oklahoma’s new medical marijuana law goes into effect this Friday, August 30, employers will have more ways to maintain a safe workplace. Under the current law, employers have been able to discharge any employee who possesses or uses medical marijuana while working. However, they have been prevented from refusing to hire or taking action against applicants and employees who possess a valid medical marijuana license solely because they hold such a license or solely because they test positive for marijuana. This will now change for “safety-sensitive” positions. Unity Bill provides increased protections for employers Under the new law, formally called the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act but commonly referred to as the “Unity Bill,” an employer can designate jobs that it reasonably believes “affect the safety and health of the employee performing the tasks or others” as safety-sensitive. The law offers a non-exclusive list of jobs that may fall under the classification, including positions involving hazardous material, operating vehicles or machinery, maintaining equipment, working with utilities, dispensing prescriptions, carrying a firearm, and providing direct patient care or child care. For jobs that are properly designated as safety-sensitive, an employer may refuse to hire an applicant or discharge an employee who tests positive for marijuana – even if that applicant or employee holds a valid Oklahoma medical marijuana license. Another feature: the new law reinforces an employer’s right to discipline or discharge an employee who is under the influence of marijuana while working – even if that employee holds a valid Oklahoma medical marijuana license. Next steps for employers These are valuable new tools to manage the improper use of marijuana and cultivate a safety-first workplace. Employers who are considering designating certain positions as safety-sensitive jobs should consult with legal counsel as to how such positions should be identified, documented and communicated to applicants and employees. Additionally, employers should review and update, as necessary, their current policies and drug esting procedures to take advantage of the new law. Featured Charles S. Plumb (918) 574-3003 Featured Practice Labor and Employment Other Recent Articles Think twice before you dismiss a cry for help: ADA accommodation request or not? September 13, 2019 | McAfee & Taft EmployerLINC In support of common-sense tort reform September 5, 2019 | The Journal Record Psssst. Can you keep a secret? September 3, 2019 | McAfee & Taft tIPsheet When parent-teacher conferences qualify for FMLA leave August 22, 2019 | McAfee & Taft EmployerLINC

SHRM On Demand

On Demand Webcasts

Register for and view any of these programs today.   Most SHRM Webcasts are available for three months after their live broadcast. Unless otherwise noted, these programs are approved to offer professional development credits (PDCs) for SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP credentials. (Beginning in 2019, SHRM programs are no longer pre-approved for HRCI creditl; however, you can still claim credit by manually entering program details. Please follow instructions in the webcasts.) Looking for more programs? Webcasts, conference sessions and other programs are available from SHRM eLearning. SHRM Webcast Series ◾ Benefits ◾ Business and HR Strategy ◾ Communication ◾ Compensation ◾ Corporate Social Responsibility ◾ Critical Evaluation ◾ Diversity and Inclusion ◾ Employee Engagement ◾ Employee Law & Regulation ◾ Employee Relations ◾ Global HR ◾ Learning/Organizational Effectiveness & Development ◾ Risk Management ◾ Safety & Heatlh ◾ Talent Acquisition & Retention ◾ Technology & Data ◾ Other Topics

The CARES Act Has Passed. Here are the Highlights.

At times, our nation can appear sharply divided; divided by generations, by left and right, by our differences, and even by the donkey and the elephant. Sometimes, circumstances arise that compel us to either rise as one or be shattered. We are facing unprecedented times and the emergence of a new, abnormal, normal. Children are out of school, businesses are closed, and we are strongly advised to protect ourselves by remaining isolated in our homes.

In the midst of this, heroes have emerged, medical personnel who are on the front-lines of a pandemic, doing whatever they can to heal the sick and preserve lives, police and firefighters, rushing in to help when everyone else is rushing away, and teachers who look for creative ways to continue to invest in children. Today, we can look to our elected representatives with admiration. The two parties came together, and after only a smidgen of negotiating, passed the $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus bill. As anticipated, President Donald Trump signed it into law on Friday, March 27, 2020.

This legislation is aimed at providing relief for individuals and businesses that have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. While that is great news, in and of itself, here’s a look at some of the key provisions included in the bill and what that may mean for you:

  • Direct payments: Americans who pay taxes will receive a one-time direct deposit of up to $1,200, and married couples will receive $2,400, plus an additional $500 per child. The payments will be available for incomes up to $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for married couples.
  • Unemployment: The program provides $250 billion for an extended unemployment insurance program and expands eligibility and offers workers an additional $600 per week for four months, on top of what state programs pay. It also extends UI benefits through Dec. 31 for eligible workers. The deal applies to the self-employed, independent contractors and gig economy workers.
  • Payroll taxes: The measure allows employers to delay the payment of their portion of 2020 payroll taxes until 2021 and 2022.
  • Use of retirement funds: The bill waives the 10% early withdrawal penalty for distributions up to $100,000 for coronavirus-related purposes, retroactive to Jan. 1. Withdrawals are still taxed, but taxes are spread over three years, or the taxpayer has the three-year period to roll it back over.
  • 401(k) Loans: The loan limit is increased from $50,000 to $100,000
  • RMDs suspended: Required Minimum Distributions from IRAs and 401(k) plans (at age 72) are suspended.
  • Charity. There is a new provision that provides an above-the-line deduction for charitable contributions, plus, the limits on charitable contributions are changed.
  • Small business relief: $350 billion is being dedicated to preventing layoffs and business closures while workers have to stay home during the outbreak. Companies with 500 employees or fewer that maintain their payroll during coronavirus can receive up to 8 weeks of cash-flow assistance. If employers maintain payroll, the portion of the loans used for covered payroll costs, interest on mortgage obligations, rent, and utilities would be forgiven.
  • Net Operating Losses: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) net operating loss rules are modified. The 80% rule is lifted, and losses can now be carried back five years.
  • Excess Loss Limitations: The excess loss limitation (ELL) rules for pass-through entities are suspended.
  • Interest Expense Limitation: The interest expense limitations are increased to 50% from 30% for tax years beginning in 2019 or 2020. Taxpayers can also elect to calculate the interest limitation for 2020 using their 2019 adjusted taxable income as the relevant base, which often will be significantly higher.
  • Large corporations: $500 billion will be allotted to provide loans, loan guarantees, and other investments, these will be overseen by a Treasury Department inspector general. These loans will not exceed five years and cannot be forgiven. Airlineswill receive $50 billion (of the $500 billion) for passenger air carriers, and $8 billion for cargo air carriers.
  • Hospitals and health care: The deal provides over $140 billion in appropriations to support the U.S. health system, $100 billion of which will be injected directly into hospitals. The rest will be dedicated to providing personal and protective equipment for health care workers, testing supplies, increased workforce and training, accelerated Medicare payments, and supporting the CDC, among other health investments.
  • Coronavirus testing: All testing and potential vaccines for COVID-19 will be covered at no cost to patients.
  • States and local governments: State, local and tribal governments will receive $150 billion. $30 billion is set aside for states, and educational institutions. $45 billion is for disaster relief, and $25 billion for transit programs.
  • Agriculture: The deal would increase the amount the Agriculture Department can spend on its bailout program from $30 billion to $50 billion.

For more information, you can see the full Bill, here.

It’s good to see Americans caring for Americans, and we’re all hoping that these, and the other measures contained in the stimulus bill will do what they’re designed to do: help individuals and businesses survive during, and recover from, the coronavirus pandemic. If you have questions, you can email me at Stay safe, we’re all in this together.