Many employers in Texas are facing disability accommodation requests from employees related to COVID-19. Some of those accommodation requests concern protections against exposure or spread in the workplace due to the employee’s disability, while others concern the disabilities that the employee has developed as a result of being infected with the coronavirus.
It is critical for employers to understand what employees and commentators mean when they refer to “long COVID,” and what this term means for accommodating an employee’s request for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The following information is designed to help employers who are navigating cases of long COVID in the workplace and ADA disability accommodation requests.
What is Long COVID?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), many people who have been infected with COVID-19 will recover within a few weeks. However, some people may continue to have symptoms for an extended period of time, regardless of the initial severity of their COVID-19 infection.
To be sure, even people with mild COVID-19 cases can have long-lasting symptoms. For many, those symptoms can last for months following an initial COVID-19 infection, or they can develop new symptoms or recurring symptoms over time. Sometimes commentators refer to people with these continuing or recurring symptoms as “long-haulers.” In most cases, however, the condition has been identified as “long COVID.” According to the HHS, symptoms may include, for example:
- Brain fog;
- Difficulty breathing;
- Heart palpitations;
- Chest pain;
- Joint pain;
- Muscle pain;
- Loss of taste or loss of smell; and
- Organ damage, including damage to the heart, lungs, kidney, brain, and skin.
For some long-haulers, the symptoms are debilitating. How does the ADA handle long COVID as a disability, and what should employers expect to do when handling accommodation requests related to long COVID?
Long COVID Can be a Disability Under Section 504 and Section 1557 of the ADA
Since long COVID may in some cases “substantially limit one or more major life activities,” it can be considered a disability under the ADA. To be clear, if a person has the condition, and its symptoms constitute a “physical or mental impairment” that “substantially limits” a major life activity, then it may be considered a disability under the ADA for which an employee can seek an accommodation.
The HHS emphasizes that when employers are determining whether long COVID “substantially limits” a major life activity, it is important to understand that the term “is construed broadly under these laws and should not demand extensive analysis.” However, long COVID is not always a disability, so the mere fact that an employee has the condition does not mean that accommodations are necessarily required.
If long COVID does result in a disability under the ADA, possible accommodations may include, for instance:
- Providing additional time on tasks if a person has trouble concentrating;
- Modifying tasks that require standing (such as the ability to sit down); or
- Allowing a person with dizziness to sit down regularly or to have a stabilizing service animal.
Contact Our Dallas Employment Lawyers
If you need assistance determining whether you should be providing ADA accommodations for an employee with long COVID, our Dallas employment law attorneys can assist you. Contact Simons Paschal PLLC for more information.