What is Post-COVID condition?
According to the CDC, although most people with COVID-19 get better within weeks of illness, some people experience post-COVID conditions. Post-COVID conditions are a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems people can experience four or more weeks after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. Even people who did not have COVID-19 symptoms in the days or weeks after they were infected can have post-COVID conditions.
This prolonged after-effects of COVID may have different names such as long COVID, long-haul COVID, post-acute COVID-19, long-term effects of COVID, or chronic COVID. Regardless of the name, the effect is the same; that is, for some people the road to recovery from COVID-19 will take longer than the anticipated 2 weeks.
Some of the reported symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental activities
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”)
- Chest or stomach pain
- Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations)
- Joint or muscle pain
- Pins-and-needles feeling
- Sleep problems
- Dizziness on standing (lightheadedness)
- Mood changes
- Change in smell or taste
- Changes in period cycles
As the list suggests, some of the symptoms will have little effect, if any, on a person’s ability to work while others could make it extremely difficult for an employee to continue working, depending on their position. For example, the inability to smell would have no effect on someone selling software, but would make it practically impossible for someone selling perfume.
Is Post-COVID Condition a Workplace Disability in California?
Possibly. As we noted above, it will likely depend on the type of symptoms an employee experiences, its severity, and its duration.
In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), which applies to employers with 5 or more employees, defines a disability as 1) a physical or mental condition that 2) limits a major life activity (the ability to work is considered a major life activity).
So, if an employee has a post-COVID symptoms such as brain fog or fatigue and the employee works in a position that requires intense concentration for long periods of time, the employee could be considered disabled under FEHA.
In California, employers who are covered by FEHA are obligated to do the following:
1. Engage in the interactive process. Read more about the interactive process; and
2. Reasonably accommodate a disabled employee, unless it would be unduly burdensome to do so. Read more about reasonable accommodations.
A reasonable accommodation that an employer may consider for an employee with post-COVID condition will largely depend on the employee’s symptoms, severity, duration, and the employee’s essential job functions.
Employers should not assume that all employees who have recovered from COVID-19 will be ready to return to work within the 2 weeks that it normally takes to recover from COVID-19. If you notice an employee struggling with any or a combination of the physical or mental symptoms outlined above, engage with that employee as if you would with an employee you suspect needs an accommodation.
Employees who are suffering from post-COVID condition should communicate with your employer and discuss the need and/or types of accommodations that may help you return to work with your physician.
In short, communicate.