Employers have had to scramble over the last three years while dealing with COVID. Suddenly working from home was not a rare option but a required way to keep businesses going while keeping employees as safe as possible. Now that most companies and employees have found their groove in dealing with the pandemic, long COVID is creating new challenges for employers and the employees suffering from the symptoms.
The CDC has stated the ongoing health problems caused by long COVID can go on for weeks, months, or years, and can go away and then come back.
The CDC has provided the following list of the symptoms most reported by those who deal with long COVID:
- Tiredness or fatigue that interferes with daily life
- Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental effort (also known as “post-exertional malaise”)
Respiratory and heart symptoms
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”)
- Sleep problems
- Dizziness when you stand up (lightheadedness)
- Pins-and-needles feelings
- Change in smell or taste
- Depression or anxiety
- Joint or muscle pain
- Changes in menstrual cycles
The number of people dealing with the health issues from long COVID has reached a high enough number for the government to get involved. The Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice have worked together to provide guidance on the matter.
According to that guidance, long COVID can be a disability under Titles II and III of the ADA, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) and the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) have put together a guide for employers which can be found at: https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ODEP/topics/pdf/long-covid-report-v2-accessibilized.pdf.
More information on accommodations, remote work, and the impact of COVID on people with disabilities can be found at: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/odep/topics/coronavirus-covid-19-long-covid/employers.
It is important to know that not every case of long COVID will be a disability. Each case should go through an “individualized assessment” to see if the issues qualify for a disability. Employers should also keep in mind that what may qualify for a disability under the ADA or other laws, will not necessarily qualify for short-term or long-term disability under their company plans. Employers should verify with their insurance provider if long COVID is covered. If not covered, and if the option is offered, employers may want to consider updating their plans going forward.
If your company has not already updated its disability policies and procedures to address long COVID, now is the time to take action.
Sources: hhs.gov; dol.gov, law360.com, cdc.gov