As COVID variants have cycled through the population, it has become clear that COVID is here to stay. What is less clear is how lingering symptoms of these variants, also known as “Long COVID” or “Post-COVID Conditions” will impact the health of those who have contracted these symptoms.
ADA Protects Long COVID Employees
Given the presence of Long COVID, employees must understand their rights so they are empowered to face their employers if Long COVID impacts their ability to work. The EEOC has recognized that Long COVID symptoms can be comparable to other disabling conditions; thus, Long COVID symptoms can be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). It is crucial that employees understand that the ADA protects employees from discrimination based on disability and requires reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.
Qualifying for ADA Accommodations
The ADA’s three-part definition of disability applies to COVID-19 in the same way it applies to any other medical condition. A person can be an individual with a “disability” for purposes of the ADA in one of three ways:
- “Actual” Disability: The person has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity (such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, or learning, or operation of a major bodily function);
- “Record of” a Disability: The person has a history or “record of” an actual disability (such as cancer that is in remission); or
- “Regarded as” an Individual with a Disability: The person is subject to an adverse action because of an individual’s impairment or an impairment the employer believes the individual has, whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity, unless the impairment is objectively both transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor.
The definition of disability is construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage, to the maximum extent permitted by the law. Nonetheless, not every impairment will constitute a disability under the ADA. The ADA uses a case-by-case approach to determine if an applicant or employee meets any one of the three above definitions of “disability.”
Employers Cooperation is Required
Long COVID symptoms could possibly implicate one or more of the above standards. Given the wide variety of symptoms that sufferers of Long COVID have reported, some employers may be hesitant to recognize Long COVID as a disability or provide accommodations to sufferers of Long COVID. When providing accommodations, employers must engage with their employees and participate in an interactive process to determine what possible accommodations exist for their employees’ disabilities.
While not every employee who contracts COVID-19 qualifies as disabled under the standards above, employers must take the time to assess their employees and ensure they are taking steps to support individuals suffering from the various symptoms.
If you believe your employer has been discriminating against you because of your Long-COVID symptoms, or, if you believe your employer has failed to engage in the accommodation-seeking process or grant you reasonable accommodations, you will be well-served by speaking with one of our employment attorneys. We have extensive experience in fighting for employee rights and negotiating with employers, which gives us the confidence and skill to help employees navigate their potential claims.