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這些新冠痊愈者,深受后遺癥長期折磨

這些新冠痊愈者,深受后遺癥長期折磨

MEGAN LEONHARDT 2021年08月09日
大多數公司在應對長癥新冠問題時都會走一步看一步,其中很多公司會依靠現有的休假和失能政策框架。

俄克拉?荷馬州摩爾市小學教師斯考特?艾倫(Scott Allen)在2020年8月底,也就是在開學兩天前開始感到不適。診斷結果:新冠肺炎。

斯考特對《財富》說:“這是我得過的最嚴重的流感。我基本上都躺在床上。”

盡管艾倫在與新冠抗爭的過程中并未住院,但在聯邦救援條例所規定的兩周帶薪休假結束之后,這些癥狀依然持續了很長的時間。艾倫從事教育行業已經有30多年的時間,而且積攢了130多天的病假,他自認為這些時間應該足以讓自己戰勝病魔。

然而這些癥狀一直在持續,包括慢性疲勞、雙手震顫、偏頭痛、氣短和腦霧。基于這些原因,艾倫無法回歸工作崗位。他在這段時間看的醫生也越來越多,包括肺臟科專家、心血管科專家、神經科專家以及腎病科專家。

艾倫說:“有一段時間,光洗個衣服就累得不行。有時候我覺得有所好轉,就會想‘快要到頭了。’然而兩天后又會出現癥狀,真是讓人心力交瘁。”

在檢測出新冠陽性近一年之后,艾倫依然在忍受著病痛的折磨,他如今被診斷為“長癥新冠”。他的癥狀非常嚴重,以至于無法回到學校教書。他不得不依賴其他教師和員工捐贈的病假來延長其帶薪假期。直到今年6月1日,他才以56歲的年齡正式退休。

艾倫說:“我并不打算退休。”他表示,自己計劃在女兒上完大學以及自己的社保和退休投資獲批之后再退休。他的女兒今年才開始念高中。如今,他正在花費其養老金,希望通過申請社保殘障保險來彌補不足。

遭受長癥新冠折磨的病患有多少?

我們仍不清楚到底有多少人在感染新冠肺炎后會演變為長癥新冠。英國新冠縱向健康和福祉全國核心調查上周發布的一篇報告稱,在對初期感染后新冠癥狀持續至少12周的病患的調查發現,新冠陽性患者演變為長癥新冠的比例為2.3%到37%。

然而英國機構的這篇報道發現,感染新冠后存在嚴重癥狀并難以開展日常活動的病患比例要小得多,從20多歲受調人群的約1.2%到60多歲人群的4.8%。

約3400萬美國民眾自疫情爆發以來被確診感染了新冠肺炎,不過,一些研究認為真實數字可能接近其兩倍。然而,即便遭受長癥新冠折磨的病患只占很小的比例,但這也意味著數十萬、甚至可能高達數百萬美國民眾都在經受持續的病痛折磨。

雇主難以對長癥新冠患者提供支持

為什么概率范圍區間如此之大,其中一個原因在于,長癥新冠的癥狀和嚴重程度可能各有不同。例如,艾倫的神經系統就受到了影響,并有哮喘癥狀,如今甚至出現了腎病三期——他的醫生也不確定腎病是源于新冠病毒,還是源于因長期服用偏頭痛藥物所產生的副作用,他自患上長癥新冠之后就開始出現偏頭痛的癥狀。

長癥新冠病患的各類癥狀和不同的嚴重程度也讓客觀的診斷充滿了挑戰性,同時雇員在患病后也很難向雇主證明,而雇主也只有在了解相應病癥之后才能決定如何為員工提供合適的支持。

韋萊韜悅(Willis Towers Watson)醫師、董事總經理兼人口健康負責人杰夫?勒文-舍茲(Jeff Levin-Scherz)稱:“新冠肺炎可能會引發人們出現某種程度的功能性障礙,這從客觀上來講是非常容易證明的。不過挑戰在于,在一些長癥新冠的病例中,醫生很難去證明這些癥狀。”很多長癥新冠病患存在腦霧以及難以集中注意力的問題,這些問題通過測試可能無法察覺。

人力資源管理學會(SHRM)的人力資源顧問約翰?杜尼(John Dooney)說:“可能是咳嗽、頭疼、呼吸困難或疲勞。醫師必須結合多種癥狀才能做出診斷。我們無法通過一種測試便得出結論:你患的是長癥新冠。”

杜尼指出,然而,越來越多的雇主可能會發現,他們會遇到長癥新冠的問題,尤其是隨著更多職場的重啟以及更多的雇員再次返回辦公室辦公。他說:“我們如今看到越來越多與長癥新冠有關的問題,因為如果有人居家辦公,他們的疲勞程度可能就會有所不同。”

杜尼還表示,對于長癥新冠病患來說,遠程辦公并不一定是一個合適的解決方案,但它有助于減少往返辦公室以及成天在辦公桌前就坐的負面影響。然而,人力資源公司LaSalle Network在6月份開展的一項調查顯示,在依然有雇員進行遠程工作的公司當中,有74%計劃讓員工在今秋返回辦公室工作。

對于長癥新冠病患來說,都有哪些現有的支持?

像杜尼和勒文-舍茲這樣的專家稱,為以防萬一,人力資源經理和公司領導人應做好準備,因為某些員工可能會因為未來數周或數月出現的長癥新冠,要求額外的休假時間或相應安排。既有可能是簡單的請病假,也有可能是提交個人失能狀態申請。

在疫情期間,要求雇主提供帶薪病假的地區迅速擴大。約16個州和華盛頓特區均要求(或很快將要求)眾多雇主為員工提供帶薪病假。

很多公司還出臺了自己的病假政策。Just Capital新冠疫情企業應對措施跟蹤器顯示,在排名前100的美國公司中,有36家在疫情期間宣布了新的帶薪病假政策,或更新了現有的規定。杜尼補充說,他曾與眾多雇主合作,思考實施開放的休假政策,也就是提供無限制的休假。

對于那些沒有任何帶薪病假的員工或像艾倫這樣已經失去工作生活平衡的人來說,一些雇員可能會提交短期失能申請,不過,并非所有公司都提供這種待遇。當前,有五個州,加州、夏威夷州、新澤西州、紐約州和羅德島州,要求雇主提供短期失能保險。

一旦帶薪假期用完之后,雇員可根據《家庭和醫療休假法》(Family and Medical Leave Act),使用多達12周的停薪留職假期,或根據《美國殘障人士法》(Americans With Disabilities Act)提出合理的訴求。一些員工甚至可能會把假期當做《美國殘障人士法》提供的一種安排,但這段假期,就像《家庭和醫療休假法》所給予的休假一樣,通常都是無薪的,而且很少會超過12-15個月。

杜尼說:“有時候,人們使用《美國殘障人士法》的頻率更高,因為它對雇員在某家公司的工作年限沒有要求,而且適用于員工數量不低于15名的公司,因此該法案的關聯度更高,而且用起來也更方便。”

值得注意的是,盡管殘障法沒有明確定義會保護哪一類失能狀況,但這種狀況通常必須是重癥而且并非是臨時性的。紐約Farrell Fritz律所雇傭法律師多米尼克?卡瑪丘?莫蘭(Domenique Camacho Moran)說:“這可能是當前存在盲點的區域。我們并不知道這是否是臨時性的,或者是永久性的,以及新冠肺炎癥狀會持續多久?”

然而,拜登總統最近稱,一些經歷了長癥新冠的美國民眾可申領聯邦傷殘撫恤金。拜登在上個月晚些時候說:“我們將匯聚各個機構的力量,以確保患有長癥新冠的失能美國民眾能夠獲取殘障法所提供的權益和資源。”

為了實現這一目標,美國衛生與人類服務部(Department of Health and Human Services)在7月發布了非強制性指引,認為長癥新冠會大幅限制患者主要的生活活動,而且在某些情況下可被視為一種受保護的失能狀態。

雇主應如何為員工提供長癥新冠方面的支持

莫蘭說,大多數公司在應對長癥新冠問題時都會走一步看一步,其中很多公司會依靠現有的休假和失能政策框架。

她說:“在過去大約17個月的時間中,雇主一直為此頭疼不已,因為每一天都會冒出來不同的法律,不同的對待方式以及不同的責任等。因此我認為,這些公司管理這類事情的方式就只能是走一步看一步。”

莫蘭說,從雇主的角度來講,至關重要的一點在于,人力資源經理應與雇員溝通,了解他們的需求。她說:“了解為什么員工會提出這些要求,然后再決定公司的解決方案是否合理,或者是否有替代方案能夠滿足雇員的需求。”

她還警告雇主不要草率地對員工下結論。莫蘭說:“我們無法推斷某位員工并未患有長癥新冠,也不應該推斷他們得了這種病。”雇主在評估是否批準雇員另行休假或給予其他安排時,應依據醫療專業人士出具的文件。

此舉可能不僅僅是允許員工繼續居家辦公。莫蘭說:“我們必須要認真思考,遠程辦公是否真的能解決問題。”她還指出,雇主可能得做好準備,縮短工作日時長,并在工作日提供更多的休息時間。

莫蘭說,雇主還應做好準備,采用一致的方式來應對雇員提出的安排訴求。她說:“每一次都得采用同樣的流程,這一點真的很重要。”這意味著,雇主必須要求任何尋求相應安排的雇員提供類似的文件;提前確定由哪個部門來受理這些要求所涉及的相應文件;同時確定專人來進行評估和做出決定。

說到文件,莫蘭還建議,如果雇員希望獲得長癥新冠的相應安排,或超過14-21天的病假,那么就應在提供新冠檢測陽性文件的同時做好提供其他相關材料的準備。她說:“如果雇員因某些情況的限制,無法在低于21天的窗口期之內返回工作崗位,那么我們便需要其他一些觀點或文件來解釋其中的原因。”

盡管長癥新冠病例可能會促使一些公司評估和更新其病假政策,但勒文-舍茲稱,雇主一開始必須把降低員工與新冠病毒的接觸概率作為首要工作。(財富中文網)

譯者:馮豐

審校:夏林

俄克拉?荷馬州摩爾市小學教師斯考特?艾倫(Scott Allen)在2020年8月底,也就是在開學兩天前開始感到不適。診斷結果:新冠肺炎。

斯考特對《財富》說:“這是我得過的最嚴重的流感。我基本上都躺在床上。”

盡管艾倫在與新冠抗爭的過程中并未住院,但在聯邦救援條例所規定的兩周帶薪休假結束之后,這些癥狀依然持續了很長的時間。艾倫從事教育行業已經有30多年的時間,而且積攢了130多天的病假,他自認為這些時間應該足以讓自己戰勝病魔。

然而這些癥狀一直在持續,包括慢性疲勞、雙手震顫、偏頭痛、氣短和腦霧。基于這些原因,艾倫無法回歸工作崗位。他在這段時間看的醫生也越來越多,包括肺臟科專家、心血管科專家、神經科專家以及腎病科專家。

艾倫說:“有一段時間,光洗個衣服就累得不行。有時候我覺得有所好轉,就會想‘快要到頭了。’然而兩天后又會出現癥狀,真是讓人心力交瘁。”

在檢測出新冠陽性近一年之后,艾倫依然在忍受著病痛的折磨,他如今被診斷為“長癥新冠”。他的癥狀非常嚴重,以至于無法回到學校教書。他不得不依賴其他教師和員工捐贈的病假來延長其帶薪假期。直到今年6月1日,他才以56歲的年齡正式退休。

艾倫說:“我并不打算退休。”他表示,自己計劃在女兒上完大學以及自己的社保和退休投資獲批之后再退休。他的女兒今年才開始念高中。如今,他正在花費其養老金,希望通過申請社保殘障保險來彌補不足。

遭受長癥新冠折磨的病患有多少?

我們仍不清楚到底有多少人在感染新冠肺炎后會演變為長癥新冠。英國新冠縱向健康和福祉全國核心調查上周發布的一篇報告稱,在對初期感染后新冠癥狀持續至少12周的病患的調查發現,新冠陽性患者演變為長癥新冠的比例為2.3%到37%。

然而英國機構的這篇報道發現,感染新冠后存在嚴重癥狀并難以開展日常活動的病患比例要小得多,從20多歲受調人群的約1.2%到60多歲人群的4.8%。

約3400萬美國民眾自疫情爆發以來被確診感染了新冠肺炎,不過,一些研究認為真實數字可能接近其兩倍。然而,即便遭受長癥新冠折磨的病患只占很小的比例,但這也意味著數十萬、甚至可能高達數百萬美國民眾都在經受持續的病痛折磨。

雇主難以對長癥新冠患者提供支持

為什么概率范圍區間如此之大,其中一個原因在于,長癥新冠的癥狀和嚴重程度可能各有不同。例如,艾倫的神經系統就受到了影響,并有哮喘癥狀,如今甚至出現了腎病三期——他的醫生也不確定腎病是源于新冠病毒,還是源于因長期服用偏頭痛藥物所產生的副作用,他自患上長癥新冠之后就開始出現偏頭痛的癥狀。

長癥新冠病患的各類癥狀和不同的嚴重程度也讓客觀的診斷充滿了挑戰性,同時雇員在患病后也很難向雇主證明,而雇主也只有在了解相應病癥之后才能決定如何為員工提供合適的支持。

韋萊韜悅(Willis Towers Watson)醫師、董事總經理兼人口健康負責人杰夫?勒文-舍茲(Jeff Levin-Scherz)稱:“新冠肺炎可能會引發人們出現某種程度的功能性障礙,這從客觀上來講是非常容易證明的。不過挑戰在于,在一些長癥新冠的病例中,醫生很難去證明這些癥狀。”很多長癥新冠病患存在腦霧以及難以集中注意力的問題,這些問題通過測試可能無法察覺。

人力資源管理學會(SHRM)的人力資源顧問約翰?杜尼(John Dooney)說:“可能是咳嗽、頭疼、呼吸困難或疲勞。醫師必須結合多種癥狀才能做出診斷。我們無法通過一種測試便得出結論:你患的是長癥新冠。”

杜尼指出,然而,越來越多的雇主可能會發現,他們會遇到長癥新冠的問題,尤其是隨著更多職場的重啟以及更多的雇員再次返回辦公室辦公。他說:“我們如今看到越來越多與長癥新冠有關的問題,因為如果有人居家辦公,他們的疲勞程度可能就會有所不同。”

杜尼還表示,對于長癥新冠病患來說,遠程辦公并不一定是一個合適的解決方案,但它有助于減少往返辦公室以及成天在辦公桌前就坐的負面影響。然而,人力資源公司LaSalle Network在6月份開展的一項調查顯示,在依然有雇員進行遠程工作的公司當中,有74%計劃讓員工在今秋返回辦公室工作。

對于長癥新冠病患來說,都有哪些現有的支持?

像杜尼和勒文-舍茲這樣的專家稱,為以防萬一,人力資源經理和公司領導人應做好準備,因為某些員工可能會因為未來數周或數月出現的長癥新冠,要求額外的休假時間或相應安排。既有可能是簡單的請病假,也有可能是提交個人失能狀態申請。

在疫情期間,要求雇主提供帶薪病假的地區迅速擴大。約16個州和華盛頓特區均要求(或很快將要求)眾多雇主為員工提供帶薪病假。

很多公司還出臺了自己的病假政策。Just Capital新冠疫情企業應對措施跟蹤器顯示,在排名前100的美國公司中,有36家在疫情期間宣布了新的帶薪病假政策,或更新了現有的規定。杜尼補充說,他曾與眾多雇主合作,思考實施開放的休假政策,也就是提供無限制的休假。

對于那些沒有任何帶薪病假的員工或像艾倫這樣已經失去工作生活平衡的人來說,一些雇員可能會提交短期失能申請,不過,并非所有公司都提供這種待遇。當前,有五個州,加州、夏威夷州、新澤西州、紐約州和羅德島州,要求雇主提供短期失能保險。

一旦帶薪假期用完之后,雇員可根據《家庭和醫療休假法》(Family and Medical Leave Act),使用多達12周的停薪留職假期,或根據《美國殘障人士法》(Americans With Disabilities Act)提出合理的訴求。一些員工甚至可能會把假期當做《美國殘障人士法》提供的一種安排,但這段假期,就像《家庭和醫療休假法》所給予的休假一樣,通常都是無薪的,而且很少會超過12-15個月。

杜尼說:“有時候,人們使用《美國殘障人士法》的頻率更高,因為它對雇員在某家公司的工作年限沒有要求,而且適用于員工數量不低于15名的公司,因此該法案的關聯度更高,而且用起來也更方便。”

值得注意的是,盡管殘障法沒有明確定義會保護哪一類失能狀況,但這種狀況通常必須是重癥而且并非是臨時性的。紐約Farrell Fritz律所雇傭法律師多米尼克?卡瑪丘?莫蘭(Domenique Camacho Moran)說:“這可能是當前存在盲點的區域。我們并不知道這是否是臨時性的,或者是永久性的,以及新冠肺炎癥狀會持續多久?”

然而,拜登總統最近稱,一些經歷了長癥新冠的美國民眾可申領聯邦傷殘撫恤金。拜登在上個月晚些時候說:“我們將匯聚各個機構的力量,以確保患有長癥新冠的失能美國民眾能夠獲取殘障法所提供的權益和資源。”

為了實現這一目標,美國衛生與人類服務部(Department of Health and Human Services)在7月發布了非強制性指引,認為長癥新冠會大幅限制患者主要的生活活動,而且在某些情況下可被視為一種受保護的失能狀態。

雇主應如何為員工提供長癥新冠方面的支持

莫蘭說,大多數公司在應對長癥新冠問題時都會走一步看一步,其中很多公司會依靠現有的休假和失能政策框架。

她說:“在過去大約17個月的時間中,雇主一直為此頭疼不已,因為每一天都會冒出來不同的法律,不同的對待方式以及不同的責任等。因此我認為,這些公司管理這類事情的方式就只能是走一步看一步。”

莫蘭說,從雇主的角度來講,至關重要的一點在于,人力資源經理應與雇員溝通,了解他們的需求。她說:“了解為什么員工會提出這些要求,然后再決定公司的解決方案是否合理,或者是否有替代方案能夠滿足雇員的需求。”

她還警告雇主不要草率地對員工下結論。莫蘭說:“我們無法推斷某位員工并未患有長癥新冠,也不應該推斷他們得了這種病。”雇主在評估是否批準雇員另行休假或給予其他安排時,應依據醫療專業人士出具的文件。

此舉可能不僅僅是允許員工繼續居家辦公。莫蘭說:“我們必須要認真思考,遠程辦公是否真的能解決問題。”她還指出,雇主可能得做好準備,縮短工作日時長,并在工作日提供更多的休息時間。

莫蘭說,雇主還應做好準備,采用一致的方式來應對雇員提出的安排訴求。她說:“每一次都得采用同樣的流程,這一點真的很重要。”這意味著,雇主必須要求任何尋求相應安排的雇員提供類似的文件;提前確定由哪個部門來受理這些要求所涉及的相應文件;同時確定專人來進行評估和做出決定。

說到文件,莫蘭還建議,如果雇員希望獲得長癥新冠的相應安排,或超過14-21天的病假,那么就應在提供新冠檢測陽性文件的同時做好提供其他相關材料的準備。她說:“如果雇員因某些情況的限制,無法在低于21天的窗口期之內返回工作崗位,那么我們便需要其他一些觀點或文件來解釋其中的原因。”

盡管長癥新冠病例可能會促使一些公司評估和更新其病假政策,但勒文-舍茲稱,雇主一開始必須把降低員工與新冠病毒的接觸概率作為首要工作。(財富中文網)

譯者:馮豐

審校:夏林

Scott Allen, an elementary school teacher in Moore, Okla., started feeling sick at the end of August 2020, just two days before school was set to start. The diagnosis: COVID-19.

“It was like the worst flu I’ve ever had. I was pretty well bedridden,” Scott told Fortune.

While Allen was never hospitalized for his bout of COVID, the symptoms persisted long after his two weeks of paid leave available under federal relief rules ran out. Allen had been a teacher for more than 30 years and had managed to accrue more than 130 days of sick time—more than enough time to see him through his illness, or so he thought.

Yet the symptoms dragged on, including chronic fatigue, tremors, migraines, shortness of breath, and brain fog. So much so that Allen couldn’t return to work. Instead, he spent his days seeing an increasing array of specialists: a pulmonologist, cardiologist, neurologist, and nephrologist.

“Some days just doing the laundry wears me out,” Allen said. “I have days that I think it’s getting better. I think, ‘I’m over the hump.’ Then two days later, something will come up, and I’m shot back down.”

Nearly a year after his initial positive test, Allen is still suffering from what has now been diagnosed as long COVID. His symptoms are so severe, he hasn’t been able to return to work. Instead, he had to rely on donated sick days from other teachers and staff to stretch his paid time off until June 1 of this year, when he officially retired at age 56.

“I wasn’t ready to retire,” Allen said, adding the plan was to wait until his daughter, who will be a senior in high school this year, was through college and his Social Security and retirement investments were vested. Instead, he’s now drawing on his pension and hoping to get approved for Social Security disability insurance to make up the difference.

How many people are suffering from long COVID?

It’s still unclear how many people who contract COVID-19 end up suffering from long COVID. Studies of those suffering from COVID symptoms for at least 12 weeks after the initial infection put the number of patients from 2.3% to 37% of those who test positive, according to a report published last week by the U.K.-based COVID-19 longitudinal health and well-being national core study.

But the percentage of COVID patients who have symptoms so severe they limit daily activities is much smaller, ranging from about 1.2% of 20-year-olds studied to up to 4.8% of 60-year-olds, the U.K. report found.

About 34 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COVID since the start of the pandemic, although some research suggests that number could be nearly twice as high. But even if only a small percentage of those suffer from long COVID, it may mean hundreds of thousands—and possibly up to a couple of million—Americans are experiencing ongoing symptoms.

Long COVID can be difficult for employers to support

One of the reason that estimates vary so widely is the wide array of symptoms and severity that can appear with long COVID. Allen, for example, suffers from neurological effects, asthma, and now even Stage 3 kidney disease—a condition that his doctors are unsure is a direct result of COVID-19 or a side effect of the medication he was prescribed for migraines he started having as a result of long COVID.

The myriad of symptoms and the varying severity of long-COVID patients can also make it challenging to objectively diagnose and prove to an employer, which then needs to determine how to offer the right support.

“There are certain kinds of disabilities people might have from COVID, which are very objectively provable. The challenge is with some of the cases of long COVID, you can’t do that,” said Jeff Levin-Scherz, a physician and managing director and population health leader at Willis Towers Watson. Many times long-COVID patients have brain fog and a hard time concentrating, something that may not show up on a test.

“It could be a cough, it could be headaches, it could be difficulty breathing, it could be fatigue. It’s a multi-symptom diagnosis that the physician would have to make. It’s not like one test that says this is long-term COVID,” said John Dooney, an HR adviser with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

But more employers may find themselves confronting the issue of long COVID, particularly as more workplaces reopen and more employees work from the office again, Dooney said. “We’re now seeing more issues around long-term COVID, which may not have been as prevalent earlier, because if someone’s working at home, they may not feel the same level of fatigue,” he said.

Working remotely isn’t always a solution for long-COVID patients, but it can help reduce the effect of commuting to the office and sitting at a desk all day, Dooney added. Yet 74% of companies that still have employees working remotely are planning on returning to the office this fall, according to a survey conducted in June by staffing firm LaSalle Network.

What existing support is available for long-COVID patients?

Experts like Dooney and Levin-Scherz said HR managers and company leaders should be prepared that some of their workers may request additional time off or accommodations because of long COVID in the coming weeks and months, if they haven’t already. That may range from simply taking paid sick leave to filing for disability status.

During the pandemic, requirements for paid sick leave rapidly expanded. About 16 states and Washington, D.C., require (or will soon require) many employers to offer paid sick leave for workers.

Many companies also enacted their own sick leave policies. Of the 100 largest American employers, 36 announced a new paid sick leave policy or updated existing guidelines during the pandemic, according to Just Capital’s COVID-19 Corporate Response Tracker. Dooney added that he has worked with many employers considering implementing open leave policies, which provide unlimited leave.

For those working without any paid sick leave, or those like Allen who have already wiped out their balance, some employees may be able to fall back on short-term disability, although not all companies offer it. Currently, five states—California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island—require employers to offer short-term disability coverage.

Once paid leave is exhausted, employees may be able to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act or ask for reasonable accommodations under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Some workers could even ask for leave as an accommodation under the ADA, but that time off, like the kind provided under the FMLA, is usually unpaid and rarely longer than 12 to 15 months.

“Sometimes the ADA is used more frequently because it doesn’t require an employee to have been working at a company for a period of time, and it’s also for companies that are only 15 or more in staff size, so it’s more prevalent. It’s easier to access,” Dooney said.

It’s worth noting that while there’s no definition of the types of disabilities protected under the ADA, they usually need to be severe and not temporary. “That may be the place that we’re struggling at the moment. We don’t know whether this is temporary, or whether it’s permanent, or how long COVID will exist,” said Domenique Camacho Moran, an employment law attorney with New York–based Farrell Fritz.

Yet President Joe Biden recently said that some Americans experiencing long COVID could qualify for federal disability benefits. “We are bringing agencies together to make sure Americans with long COVID, who have a disability, have access to the rights and resources that are due under disability law,” Biden said late last month.

To that end, the Department of Health and Human Services released nonbinding guidance in July that suggested long COVID can substantially limit a major life activity and could be, in some cases, treated as a protected disability.

How employers should approach adding long COVID support for workers

Most companies are taking situations with long COVID one step at time, with many relying on existing time off and disability frameworks, said Moran.

“For the last 17 months or so, employers have been reeling because every day there is a different law, a different threat, a different set of obligations. And so I think the way in which they are managing these things is to take it one step at a time,” she said.

It’s vitally important, from the employer perspective, that HR managers speak to the employees, find out what they need, Moran said. “Find out why they’re asking for what they’re asking for, and then decide whether that’s an accommodation that’s reasonable, or if there’s an alternative accommodation that can meet the employees needs,” she said.

She also warned companies against jumping to conclusions about workers. “We can’t assume that someone is not experiencing long COVID, but we shouldn’t assume they are,” Moran said. Instead, employers should rely on documentation from medical professionals when evaluating whether to grant employees additional leave or accommodations.

And that may go beyond simply allowing employees to continue to work from home. “We have to be careful in thinking that remote work is the answer,” Moran said, adding that employers may need to be prepared to offer shorter workdays and more breaks throughout the workday.

Employers should also plan to handle requests for accommodations consistently, said Moran. “It’s really key that they’re doing the same process every single time,” she said. That means asking for similar forms of documentation from any employee seeking accommodations; determining in advance who gets the requested accommodation paperwork for these requests; and putting the same individuals in place to review and weigh decisions.

Speaking of documentation, Moran also recommends that employees be prepared to provide more than a positive COVID test to gain accommodations for long COVID, or for absences that are more than 14 to 21 days. “If there is something going on that’s going to limit an employee’s ability to work beyond that 21-day window, we’re going to need some other viewpoints or other documentation explaining what it is,” she said.

While long-COVID cases may prompt some companies to review and update their sick leave policies, Levin-Scherz said employers also need to prioritize reducing the chances that their workers will contract COVID in the first place.

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