The COVID-19 virus continues to spread and impact workplaces across the United States. While many people infected make full recoveries, others experience acute symptoms that have become collectively known as “long COVID.” Not much is known about long COVID, but some “long haulers” are having trouble maintaining pre-infection levels of work performance.
Despite the condition’s inherent ambiguity, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently clarified that long COVID may be considered a disability under certain conditions. As a result, workers impaired by severe long COVID symptoms are protected from disability discrimination. Below, we review what this means for workers who are still dealing with the consequences of a COVID-19 infection.
When Is Long COVID Considered a Disability?
According to the EEOC, long COVID becomes a disability when physical or mental symptoms significantly limit your ability to participate in one or more life activities. In other words, if you were previously able to lift heavy objects but long COVID symptoms prevent you from safely doing so, your physical symptoms are likely considered a disability under the law. Similarly, if you have “brain fog” and become unable to perform complex tasks, you are likely considered disabled due to your mental symptoms.
Symptoms associated with long COVID include:
- Chest Pain
- Difficulty Breathing
- Difficulty Sleeping
- Difficulty Thinking (“Brain Fog”)
- Heart Palpitations
- Loss of Smell or Taste
- Muscle Pain
Not all long COVID symptoms will necessarily constitute a disability. If you have a lingering cough but are nonetheless able to do just about everything you could do pre-infection, you may not be considered disabled. The symptoms must substantially impair a life activity.
Workers with Disabling Long COVID Are Protected from Adverse Treatment
If you are suffering from debilitating long COVID symptoms, you are no doubt frustrated that you may not be able to work as quickly or ably as you used to. Your boss probably feels the same way, and, if they are not compassionate to your condition, they may start looking for a reason to let you go.
Your employer cannot treat you adversely because you have long COVID if your condition qualifies as a disability. This means they cannot generally fire you, demote you, reduce your pay, give you unfavorable hours or responsibilities, or otherwise retaliate against you because you are disabled. These laws apply to all California employers with five or more employees.
Your boss may be able to terminate you without violating anti-discrimination laws if you become unable to perform your job responsibilities. Maintaining your pre-infection productivity can be extremely difficult if you are dealing with long COVID, so this is a very real concern. Fortunately, disabled employees – including workers with debilitating long COVID symptoms – have the right to request reasonable accommodations.
Employees with Disabling Long COVID Can Request Reasonable Accommodations
As a disabled employee, a worker with qualifying long COVID symptoms can request one or more reasonable accommodations that will help them better do their job. California employers are required to consider all reasonable accommodation requests – they cannot deny them because they do not want to take the time to implement them.
Examples of reasonable accommodations an employee with long COVID might request include:
- Modification to work schedules to allow for more rest time and breaks
- Modification equipment or work devices
- Indefinite remote work
- Restructuring of the position’s job responsibilities
- Reassignment to a vacant position more suited to an employee’s current abilities
An employer can only reject a reasonable accommodation request if it creates an undue hardship, meaning it is too expensive or fundamentally disruptive. Some employers are hostile to reasonable accommodation requests, especially if they wrongly believe long COVID is not a real condition. They may consequently deny perfectly reasonable accommodations. This can leave COVID long haulers in a vulnerable position, as they may be unable to adequately do their job without these accommodations. This inability may give an employer enough justification to terminate the affected employee.
Fired for Having Long COVID? Explore Your Legal Options Today.
Too many employers throughout the country refuse to believe in the reality of long COVID. The condition is disabling an alarming number of Americans who deserve fair treatment in the workplace. If you were treated adversely or terminated after developing long COVID symptoms, do not wait to discuss your case with Attorney Bill Marder. With over 25 years of experience and millions of dollars recovered, Attorney Marder has what it takes to win. He will evaluate your circumstances, determine whether you have a case, and aggressively advocate for you throughout the legal process.
You do not have to deal with the consequences of long COVID alone. Contact the Polaris Law Group online or call (888) 796-4010 to schedule a free initial consultation.