Reasonable Accommodation and Long COVID

Man washing his hands

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about worldwide change, including mutations of the disease that have continued to perplex health professionals. Often called Long COVID, the disease can present itself with symptoms that last longer than the average sick period of a few days or weeks, such as chronic shortness of breath, fatigue, brain fog, and headaches, just to name a few.

If you are suffering from Long COVID, it might affect the way you live your life, including how you participate at work. If you have Long COVID, you might also have a disability and therefore be entitled to accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Here’s what you need to know about Long COVID and getting reasonable accommodations in your workplace.

How Long COVID can impact your work performance

COVID-19’s symptoms differ for everyone, as does recovery time. There is unfortunately no test to diagnose Long COVID, which can make it difficult for health care providers to definitively diagnosis the disease. Common short-term symptoms might include brain fog, fatigue, or shortness of breath. Those with Long COVID are also more likely to develop health conditions such as postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), sleep disorders, diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, mental health conditions, PTSD, or chronic pain.

All of this can add up to a complex mental and physical state that might impact your ability to work. Brain fog might cause you to miss important numbers or names, while fatigue might see you slowing down your productivity. Poor sleep can knock you off your focus, while diabetes or cardiovascular conditions might require more doctor's appointments, more breaks, or a change in your work schedule or environment.

Your legal rights and protections under the ADA for Long COVID

While the diagnosis might be nebulous, the law is less so. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, those who are suffering from the effects of Long COVID are eligible for protections under the ADA. These federal laws are designed to prevent anyone with disabilities—including those suffering from Long COVID—from being discriminated against. However, Long COVID is not always immediately classified as a disability.

To determine if someone qualifies as having a disability, they need to meet the requirement of being a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, including work. If your Long COVID symptoms qualify as a disability, you are also entitled to reasonable accommodations under the ADA.

Do I need to prove I have Long COVID to be classified as having a disability?

The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation for anyone with a disability, and the effects of Long COVID, if they substantially limit a major life activity, qualify. Although it may not be required by your employer, a doctor’s note might be helpful to start the conversation about any requested accommodations for your disability. It could clearly outline symptoms, restrictions, or recommendations. Doctor’s notes can also be helpful if in the future your reasonable accommodation is taken away from you or reduced since there is no timeline on when Long COVID might disappear or when your reasonable accommodations might have reached a limit.

When to call a plaintiff’s employment attorney regarding Long COVID

Keep in mind that reasonable accommodations related to Long COVID or any disability aren’t guaranteed to be permanent and can be revisited and adjusted over time. The ADA requires it to be an interactive process between the employee and employer, with changes implemented based on employee and employer needs, including undue hardship on the part of the employer.

It’s best to maintain open lines of communication, to be flexible, and to stay informed of potential treatments and your rights as guidance might change, and in many cases, to call a plaintiff’s employment lawyer to help you fight for your rights if you think you have been discriminated against as a sufferer of Long COVID. Contact us to get the process started. At Beal Sutherland Berlin and Brown we understand the intricacies of diseases like Long COVID and reasonable accommodations. Call us at 404-476-5305 to speak to an attorney.