Coronavirus, which first surfaced in Wuhan, China in December 2019, has since spread to nearly every corner of the globe. The result? A near-catastrophic level of disruption to daily life and the global economy for over a year. As of March 2021, the virus has taken the lives of more than 1.6 million people and sickened more than 76 million.
Unfortunately, the global pandemic appears to be far from over. A highly transmissible variant of the virus has already popped up, and millions remain at risk of developing the milder (but still potentially debilitating) long-term effects of the virus, aka long COVID. These post-COVID symptoms may affect your employees and, therefore, need to be planed for.
Let’s discuss long COVID- what its symptoms are and what your role as an employer should be in helping employees manage in the days ahead.
What Is Long COVID?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), post-acute COVID conditions are a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems people can experience four or more weeks after first being infected with the virus. Even people who were asymptomatic in the days or weeks after being infected can still develop one or more post-COVID conditions.
Long COVID reports have included combinations of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, or cough
- Fatigue or dizziness when standing (lightheadedness)
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”)
- Chest or stomach pain
- Heart palpitations
- Joint and muscle pain or “pins-and-needles”
- Sleep problems
- Mood changes
- Change in smell or taste
- Changes in period cycles
Some employees who have had severe COVID-19 can experience multiorgan effects or autoimmune conditions over a long period of time. Multiorgan and inflammatory effects could affect heart, lung, kidney, skin, and brain functions, so it’s critical that you and your employees take any potential symptoms seriously. As an employer, that means making adjustments for your employees when possible.
What Do You Do for Employees Who Develop Long COVID?
Because long COVID-19 can cause a variety of unique limitations, your employees may be entitled to certain workplace accommodations. Even if your employees don’t think of themselves as having a disability, they may meet the Americans with Disabilities criteria.
Your employee does not necessarily have to qualify as disabled in order for you to assist them with long COVID symptoms. That said, you are also entitled to evaluating accommodation requests to ensure they do not result in undue hardship for your business. So long as you are complying with the ADA, it will be up to you to decide how to handle each individual case.
Resources to Support Employees with Long COVID
On July 31, the Biden-Harris Administration offered official resources to support those experiencing long-term symptoms from COVID-19. The announcements from the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Justice, Education, and Labor all provide information on federal supports and accommodations, including the rights of employees and employers.
The federal announcement included the following:
- Guidance explaining long COVID as a potential disability under various federal civil rights laws. The Office for Civil Rights at HHS and Department of Justice released advice on upholding federal protection for individuals with debilitating long COVID symptoms. For help determining whether or not your employee has a disability under one of the civil rights laws, thoroughly read over the official federal guidance page.
- Access to resources on disability support services. The Administration for Community Living at HHS released a guide for supporting those who now require assistance to do things like go to work or participate in the community because of long COVID. These resources provide information on what is available locally and help connect you to all critical services needed for helping employees through the pandemic (ex. transportation, personal care attendants, and other reasonable accommodation solutions).
- Information about accommodations in the workplace. The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) at the Department of Labor created a webpage with resources for workers and employers facing long COVID complications. Those resources include information on requesting and providing workplace accommodations. They even include individual solutions for each major symptom of COVID or post-acute COVID syndrome.
For more information on the impact of long COVID on workers and safeguarding those with COVID-related disabilities, check out our blog, “ADA Challenges During COVID and Dealing with Accommodations.”
ADA Compliance Made Easy
COVID-19 and long COVID have created endless administrative burdens, compliance concerns and workforce management obstacles. Luckily, top-notch benefits administration tools have the capacity to meet those challenges head-on. With the right solution, your HR team can tackle the added work and safeguard compliance without the added stress. That includes ADA accommodations.
EPAY Systems offers award-winning benefits administration as part of our Human Capital Management (HCM) system. Let us free up your HR workload, so you can focus on the individualized needs of your employees! Schedule a free, personalized demo today.