The DOL Offers Guidance on Reasonable Accommodations for Long-Haulers Under the ADA
Among the new resources that the U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Accommodations Network (JAN) recently added to its COVID-19 webpage is included frequently asked questions on COVID-19 Long Haulers and the ADA.
Many individuals are “long haulers,” meaning that they are experiencing lingering symptoms of COVID-19 – a condition known as Post-acute COVID-19 Syndrome or Long COVID. Such people may meet the ADA definition of having a “disability”: a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. And if so, they would be entitled to reasonable accommodations to enable them to perform the essential functions of their jobs. On this issue, JAN offers the following guidance from the perspective of long haulers:
- Long haulers are encouraged to ask employers for an accommodation, whether or not they technically meet the disability definition, since employers are free to provide accommodations even if not required.
- Although requests for accommodation need not be formal, JAN encourages long haulers to put their requests in writing. We note that, once a request has been made, however informally, employers can then require the employee to follow up with a written request.
- Employers may require long haulers to provide sufficient medical information to establish coverage under the ADA, clarify the need for accommodation, and explore alternative accommodations. Employers may not ask for medical information unrelated to these reasons.
- Accommodations may need to be provided for temporary conditions, and may be removed once they are no longer required.
- In providing accommodations, which can range widely, employers need not remove essential job functions, lower production standards, provide personal need items (e.g. hearing aids or wheelchairs), or experience an undue hardship. They also need not provide the employee’s preferred accommodation as long as the provided accommodation is effective.
- JAN can help to propose accommodation ideas.
- Employers have the duty to propose accommodation ideas even if the employee does not have any ideas.
- Health care providers may also suggest accommodations.
- If the employer denies the accommodation, JAN suggests that the employee ask why (and we suggest that the employer explain why when denying the request).
- If the employer believes there is no disability, the employee could provide additional medical information to establish one.
- If the employer believes the requested accommodation is an undue hardship, the employee could propose other accommodations (although we suggest that employers explore all possible reasonable accommodations before denying a request altogether).
- If the employee believes the denial was not valid or the employer refuses to explain the denial (we do not advise employers to do that), JAN suggests that the employee go up the chain of command, file a grievance if a union member, or file a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or state fair employment practices agency, which are charged with enforcement of disability statutes. (We note that, although the DOL is offering these guidance documents, it does not have enforcement authority for the ADA).