By now we are all familiar with the virus called COVID-19. While we have been primarily focused on stopping the spread of the virus, there has been a growing concern about the long-term side effects that occur after the initial infection. This condition is known as post-COVID conditions (PCC) or long COVID, and it involves a range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems that can persist for weeks, months, or even years after the initial infection.
Diagnosing long COVID is not always straightforward, as there is no specific test to confirm it. Some people may have the symptoms but never got tested for COVID-19 or didn’t even know they had it. Nevertheless, healthcare providers can diagnose PCC based on health history, including checking for a diagnosis of COVID-19, and examining other health metrics.
What is long COVID and how can it affect employees?
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) long haulers can have a wide range of symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Difficulty thinking (brain fog)
- Depression or anxiety
Employers need to be aware that the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) has recognized both COVID-19 and long COVID as covered disabilities under the ADA. This can create confusion and tee up litigation as companies grapple with how to accommodate workers who are experiencing long COVID symptoms. With the prevalence of long COVID remaining steady, it’s essential that HR teams are prepared to provide their employees with effective workplace accommodations.
Accommodating employees with long COVID
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an accommodation can be considered for long COVID if the symptoms interfere with the employee’s ability to do their job and do not pose an undue hardship to the employer. Keep in mind that long COVID can be considered a mental or physical impairment. So even if your employee is not struggling physically, they may have other challenges they are facing.
When considering what accommodation to give the employee, keep in mind what limitations they are experiencing and how these limitations affect their ability to perform their job functions. Often you can find solutions that are low-cost or free. Both temporary accommodations, as well as permanent options, should be considered.
What are the types of accommodations you can use to help employees experiencing long COVID?
Below are some effective accommodations to consider for each symptom:
Shortness of breath
- Reduce physical demands of the job.
- Develop a plan of action to deal with sudden exacerbations.
- Allow remote work.
Tiredness or fatigue
- Allow rest breaks.
- Allow a flexible schedule.
- Provide an ergonomic workstation.
- Provide a quiet workspace.
- Provide uninterrupted work time.
- Provide memory aids such as flowcharts and checklists.
Note that this is not an exhaustive list. It is a good idea to ask employees themselves what potential accommodation can help the most. The great news is that most of these accommodations cost very little and can easily be modified and customized to each individual.
What are some of the best practices for managing accommodation for employees with long COVID?
It’s important to remember that in July 2021, the DOJ has recognized long COVID as a disability under the federal law. This means that any request for an accommodation due to long COVID should be taken with the utmost seriousness and an interactive process should be in place to ensure that the employee is getting the assistance they need. Following ADA best practices is vital to creating a company culture where all employees feel supported, regardless of their disability.
Here are three best practices to consider when going through the accommodation process with employees:
Educate employees on how to make an accommodation request
Every workplace accommodation under the ADA must be initiated by an employee – employers cannot initiate the process themselves. This is why you should proactively encourage employees to request the accommodations they need and educate them on how to make a request. If you identify an employee who might be in need of an accommodation, it is important that you provide all the information they need to begin the process.To make it as easy as possible for an employee to request an accommodation, you can leverage accommodations management technology to offer a self-service request portal. One example is AbsenceSoft’s employee self-service module, which gives employees the ability to submit an accommodation request on their own – from anywhere, and from whatever device they choose. They are then able to track the progress of their case, and interactive process all within the platform.
Ensure proper medical documentation is in place
For some long COVID requests, a medical condition evaluation will be needed. In that instance, it is best practice to request that the employee provide a physical capacity assessment from their healthcare provider. These assessments help to quantify all the effects that long COVID is having on that employee so that you can find the right accommodation for them. Adding these documents into a system of truth like AbsenceSoft, ensures that these documents are secure, so you won’t misplace them. In addition, we have a fax-barcoding feature that has the ability to send and receive faxes from doctors right into the system.
Ending the accommodation with clear communication and expectations
With long COVID and many other disabilities, an accommodation might only be temporary. And this can be a good thing, as it means your employee is getting healthy. For non-permanent accommodations, you’ll want to make sure you check in regularly with them to see how they are feeling and track how the accommodation is helping them. The AbsenceSoft system has built-in reminders, that create a to-do for the accommodations manager to check in with the employee, at the proper times.
Once the accommodation is no longer needed, it might mean that the employee returns equipment or goes back to normal working schedules. In those cases, you want to be sure to let the employee know what is expected of them and when.
The Bottom Line
Ensuring that you have a procedure in place to provide employees who are experiencing long COVID with proper accommodations, is key to a happy workplace – and keeping your team out of legal woes. In-house accommodation software, like AbsenceSoft, can provide your team with the tools they need to execute the ADA process from start to finish. To learn more about the best practices we have found from serving over 200 customers, download our HR Guide to Improving your ADA Process.
Interested in learning more about how AbsenceSoft can improve your ADA process? Chat with one of ADA our experts.