Accommodating COVID-19 Long Haulers
In the past year or so, people of all backgrounds have been impacted by the COVID-19 virus. Many who contracted the virus were sick for a few days or weeks, but then they bounced back and resumed their daily routines. However, others who got COVID-19 are still suffering from lingering effects—such as shortness of breath, fatigue, headaches, body aches, brain fog, and dizziness—which are hindering their recoveries. These individuals are known as long haulers. Long haulers have post-acute COVID-19 syndrome, a condition that is also called long COVID.
Understanding the ADA Disability Definition
If your company employs long haulers, you may be wondering how to accommodate their health issues and help them ease back into work. The Job Accommodations Network (JAN), within the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, recently added a section to its website titled COVID-19 Long Haulers and the Americans with Disabilities Act. This list of frequently asked questions provides guidance for those categorized as long haulers and explains their Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protections.
Depending on their continuing ailments, long haulers may be considered to have disabilities per the ADA definition. This definition states that they have mental or physical impairments that substantially limit their major life activities. When categorized with such disabilities, they are entitled to accommodations enabling them to perform the essential duties of their jobs.
Employee Rights and Employer Obligations
According to the JAN guidelines, long haulers—whether they are clearly defined as having disabilities or not—should meet with their employers and ask for reasonable accommodations. It is best to put these requests in writing, either initially or as follow-ups to informal requests.
Employers can provide their employees with accommodations, even if they do not meet the ADA requirements. They are allowed to request medical information related to these accommodation requests and clarify the needs for the requests. But they are not allowed to ask employees for unrelated medical information.
If employers agree to make accommodations, they are not required to amend the employees’ basic job functions or lower company standards. They also are not required to provide wheelchairs or other personal medical supplies. Reasonable accommodations include offering flexible or part-time work schedules, restructuring jobs, making workplaces more ADA accessible, and providing modified devices or equipment. If the employees do not propose their own accommodations suggestions, employers are required to make appropriate suggestions. If employers need ideas, they can consult JAN or healthcare professionals. If the medical issues are temporary, employers may remove the accommodations after the issues are resolved.
If the employers deny the accommodation requests, employees should request the reasons if not readily offered. If the employers see the request to be unreasonable, employees can suggest alternatives. If the employers do not believe the medical need, employees should provide further medical evidence. If the employers and employees still do not agree, employees are within their rights to file a grievance with their union or human resources department. They can also contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the applicable state agency.
Advice for Employers
If you have employees who are long haulers and request accommodations, listen to their stories and try to come up with reasonable solutions. It is in your employees’ best interest to continue working, both personally and professionally. However, if you worry that the requests are not justified or will cause undue hardship for your company, be sure to consult legal counsel. ADA issues can be tricky, but the experienced labor and employment attorneys at Cotney are here to assist. The Cotney team can help you understand your employees’ rights, as well as your obligations, in these situations.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.