DIEP RRTC

Episode 20: Long COVID and Disability Employment Policy

Sharon Rennert, senior attorney with the ADA Division of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, has played a leading role in the development of their policy interpretations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. In this podcast, Sharon explains the protections for people with disabilities in employment and how they apply to people with Long COVID. Whether Long COVID is a disability was a topic of discussion in the early days of the pandemic, when it was still a mysterious group of symptoms people were experiencing after having COVID-19. Rennert discusses the various factors used to determine whether an individual with Long COVID is protected by the ADA, and how Long COVID fits into the equation – where it meets the definition of disability and where it doesn’t.
Rennert points out that although the effects of Long COVID are diverse, more often than not it does meet the definition of disability. While employers are entitled to request medical records to provide evidence of disability, the fact is that disability law provides a unique definition of disability independent from official medical diagnoses. Long COVID may have different types and combinations of symptoms that may emerge and persist over different lengths of time. It can cause fatigue, brain fog and other symptoms that would limit major life activities. And because it fits the definition of disability, people with Long COVID are protected by disability law – meaning they are protected from discrimination beginning with the application and interview process all the way through their tenure as employees. Despite that, people with Long COVID may be requested to provide medical documentation to prove their symptoms of Long COVID represent an impairment that substantially limits major life activities related to the essential functions of their job. By meeting the test for disability, an individual with Long COVID has the right to ask for reasonable accommodations.

Rennert also discusses remote work, which may be considered a reasonable accommodation under the ADA on an individual case-by-case basis. Though employers have ushered employees back into the workplace following the pandemic, people with disabilities still may have remote work as an accommodation and employers cannot deny the accommodation simply because it’s against their workplace policy. She describes the two questions both employers and employees must consider when dealing with a remote work accommodation request: does the employee have a disability covered by the ADA, and can the essential functions of the job be performed virtually? The determination may include a conversation between the employee and employer to determine whether other alternatives, such as a combination of remote and on-site work, might be an option.

Rennert explains the process of filing a complaint with the EEOC alleging employment discrimination for a wide range of employment-related issues, including but not limited to job assignment, termination, promotion, harassment, and/or failure to provide reasonable accommodations to an individual with Long COVID. Federal employees must file complaints with the agency in question rather than the EEOC. There are deadlines for filing that begin the day that the discriminatory action happened, so it is important to file as soon as possible.

Speakers

Michael Morris
Michael Morris
Podcast Moderator, Burton Blatt Institute, Syracuse University
Sharon Rennert
Sharon Rennert
Senior Attorney Advisor – ADA/GINA Division, Office of Legal Counsel

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