COVID-19 Long Haulers and the Americans with Disabilities Act

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COVID-19COVID-19 Long Haulers and the Americans with Disabilities Act
By Linda Carter Batiste

Editor’s Note: The following blog is re-posted with permission from the Job Accommodation Network, a founding Member of the Campaign for Disability Employment.

Some individuals who had COVID-19 are experiencing ongoing effects or lingering symptoms for months afterward. The scientific name for this medical condition is Post-acute COVID-19 Syndrome or Long COVID. If you’re one of the individuals who has this condition, sometimes referred to as “long haulers,” you may have difficulty working in the same way you did before you had COVID-19, and you may wonder whether to ask your employer to make changes so you can do your job. Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires covered employers to make reasonable changes (referred to as “accommodations”) in the workplace for qualified applicants and employees with medical conditions that meet the definition of disability.

Consequently, it is important to consider the definition of disability under the ADA to determine if it applies to your specific situation. The definition of disability under the ADA is broad to help ensure that people with medical conditions can work if they choose. Even if you don’t think of yourself as having a disability, you may meet the ADA definition.

The following questions and answers are intended to help you determine whether you have rights under the ADA:

1) How do I know whether I have a disability under the ADA and whether I’m entitled to accommodations at work?

Under the ADA, you are entitled to accommodations if you meet the definition of disability, are qualified for the job, and work for an employer that has at least 15 employees. There is no list of medical conditions that meet the definition of disability, and each case is determined based on an individual’s specific limitations. While it’s not certain yet whether COVID-19 or Long COVID will meet the definition of disability, it is possible since the definition is intended to be broad. And, even if Long COVID is temporary, it might still be a disability under the ADA, as temporary conditions can be disabilities if the limitations are severe enough.

The bottom line is that there is no “per se” disability under Title I of the ADA. If you think you might meet the definition of disability, you can ask your employer for an accommodation and see if they will provide it. Also, employers are free to provide accommodations even if someone doesn’t meet the definition of disability.  Accordingly, if you need an accommodation, the best thing to do is ask for it.

For more information about the ADA in general, see Your Employment Rights as an Individual with a Disability.

For information about the definition of disability, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).

2) How do I ask for an accommodation?

There is no official method or form to request an accommodation under the ADA, so you can do it any way you want as long as you let your employer know that you’re asking for something because of a medical condition. However, it can be useful to make a written request because it gives you time to decide what you want to say and what you want to ask for without the pressure of a face-to-face meeting with your employer. It also establishes a record of your request. For more information, see the following Job Accommodation Network (JAN) publications:

Requesting and Negotiating a Reasonable Accommodation

How to Request an Accommodation: Accommodation Form Letter

3) What type of information can my employer request when I ask for an accommodation? 

If it isn’t obvious that you have a disability or need an accommodation, your employer can ask you to provide limited medical documentation to show that you’re covered under the ADA. Your employer can also ask questions to help clarify why you need an accommodation and to explore alternative accommodations, if necessary. Your employer cannot ask for documentation that is unrelated to determining the existence of your disability and the necessity for an accommodation.  This means that in most situations an employer cannot ask you about other medical conditions you might have or request your complete medical records because they are likely to contain information unrelated to the disability at issue and the need for accommodation.

For more information, see Medical Inquiry in Response to an Accommodation Request.

4) Can I get an accommodation if I only need it temporarily or if my limitations change over time?

Yes. If you are a qualified individual with a disability as defined under the ADA, your employer must consider providing accommodations for any limitations you have related to your disability, even if temporary or episodic. An employer can simply remove an accommodation once it’s no longer needed.

5) What accommodations can I ask for? 

There is no exhaustive list of what accommodations you can ask for under the ADA, but there are general categories that include:

  • Providing or modifying equipment or devices,
  • Job restructuring,
  • Part-time or modified work schedules,
  • Reassignment to a vacant position,
  • Adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies,
  • Providing readers and interpreters, and
  • Making the workplace readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.

Employers do not have to remove essential job functions, lower production standards, provide personal need items such as hearing aids and wheelchairs, or provide any accommodation that creates an undue hardship. Employers also do not need to provide an employee’s preferred accommodation as long as the employer provides an effective accommodation.

If you’re not sure whether the accommodation you need is something your employer must consider, you could mention your idea to your employer, but offer to consider other options.

If you need accommodation ideas, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a free resource to help you or your employer brainstorm accommodation ideas. If you want to explore ideas on your own, JAN has ideas on its A-Z page. Long COVID has caused a wide variety of limitations so the A-Z list by limitation might be the best place to start. Your employer also has a duty to try to propose accommodation ideas even if you don’t have any ideas yourself, and your health care provider might be able to offer suggestions.

6) What can I do if my employer won’t provide the accommodations I need?

Your options vary depending on your situation, but here are some possibilities:

Try to find out why your accommodation was denied. This might help you decide what to do next. For example, if your employer denied your request because your medical information did not show that you have a disability, you can provide additional information. Or, if your employer decided that the accommodation you requested would pose an undue hardship, you can suggest other options.

If you do not think your employer has a valid reason to deny your request, or the employer will not tell you why the request was denied, you can appeal the decision by going up the chain of command, filing a grievance with your union if you have one, or filing a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your state enforcing agency.

For information regarding the complaint process, visit EEOC’s How to File a Charge of Employment Discrimination.

See JAN’s list of state enforcing agencies.

7) Where can I get more information about the ADA and accommodations?

The JAN website has a wealth of information, and you can contact us to discuss your specific situation if you need additional information.

About the Author
Linda Carter Batiste, J.D. is a Principal Consultant/Legislative Specialist with the Job Accommodation Network (JAN).

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