The White House, HHS and DOJ Assert that “Long COVID” May Be A Protected Disability
As part of its statement commemorating the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Biden-Harris administration released a package of guidance and resources to support individuals experiencing long-term symptoms of COVID-19 (i.e. “Long COVID”). Among this is joint guidance from the Health and Human Service’s Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Justice, as well as a new webpage from the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, which offers resources on accommodations for long COVID.
DOJ and HHS Guidance. According to the guidance, the physical or mental impairments caused by long COVID may be disabilities under the ADA and other federal disability laws, if they substantially limit one or more major life activities. These activities not only include bodily functions, such as respiratory or circulatory systems, but also broadly encompass routine activities such as caring for oneself, sleeping, eating, working, thinking, and much, much more.
The guidance reiterates the general principle that the term “substantially limits” should be interpreted broadly and not require extensive analysis. The impairment need not prevent or significantly restrict an individual from performing a major life activity, nor does it need to be severe, permanent or long-term. It may also be intermittent.
If a COVID “long hauler” has a disability, then they are protected by the ADA. This would entitle them to reasonable accommodations from their employers, as long as such accommodations do not pose an undue hardship. The guidance lists a number of federal agencies that have provided resources to assist businesses and other entities address the needs of COVID long haulers. Of relevance to employers, this includes the EEOC.
ODEP Webpage. This new webpage collects resources that the DOL has previously provided on COVID, including on accommodations for COVID long haulers, notably including a blog post on long-haulers and the ADA, which we previously discussed in our May 2021 E-Update.