October 24, 2022 – As one of the leading disability insurance attorneys in the US, Frank Darras has seen firsthand the impact that COVID has long had on employees and the challenges they face in navigating not only the disease in yes, but also in the workplace.
Through referrals pouring in from across the country, Darras says he has a real-time view of the pandemic and the daunting obstacles employees are facing. long covid face trying to explain and prove their condition.
“It’s scary to have a disease and a problem for which there is no cure yet,” says Darras, founding partner of the DarrasLaw law firm in Ontario, CA. “And having his job and his family’s financial future at stake…it’s horrible for the employee.”
Experts already predict that the economic fallout and ripple effect of the long COVID could be in the trillions of dollars.
“It’s a very significant fraction of the total workforce … in a tight labor market environment that we find ourselves in, it’s a really big factor,” says Matt Craven, MD, a partner at consulting firm McKinsey & Co., and author of an upcoming report estimating that acute and prolonged COVID will cost the US economy a billion productive days in 2022.
In the meantime, there is still a lot about prolonged COVID that is not clear. The CDC describes it as a “wide range of new, recurring, or ongoing health problems” that occur at least 4 weeks after infection. In a great recent study involving 100,000 people in Scotland, one in 20 COVID patients said they had not recovered “at all” more than half a year after the start of their infection, while around 40% reported being “only partially recovered”.
“Long COVID is a term that we use a lot, but it’s not really well defined, because COVID has affected different people in very different ways,” says Cheryl Bates-Harris, senior disability advocacy specialist at National Network for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Engage and delight employees
Employees with prolonged COVID generally fall into two categories: those with long-term debilitating symptoms that prevent them from working altogether, and those with milder to moderate symptoms that allow them to remain productive with proper workplace accommodations.
Employees may not realize they can request accommodations, experts say, while inexperienced employers may not know how to help or what to do with an employee who is suddenly only able to function at 50% capacity.
“In a situation where many industries are labor-constrained right now, the importance of maintaining the long-term employer-employee relationship is greater than ever,” says Craven, who leads McKinsey’s public health response to COVID-19. “What flexibility can they offer so that they don’t permanently lose a worker who could be a great asset to them in the long run?”
For employees with mild to moderate COVID symptoms, employers should provide a safe and supportive environment to openly discuss how they can help, advocates say. It is also important to be informed about prolonged COVID.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are expected to make “reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities, but advocates encourage employers to set a positive example by having these conversations and listening to the needs of their employees, regardless of age. your state under the Disabilities Act.
“I would hate to waste years of work experience and years of training that person has received, simply because there is a part of their job that they can’t do or because they are now experiencing health issues,” says Bates-Harris.
If an employee can’t walk long distances because they get out of breath easily or tire quickly, employers can offer telecommuting as an option when feasible, allowing the employee to work from home, experts suggest. They can make sure that the employee is equipped at home with the devices and tools that he needs to do his job well.
If an employee’s job doesn’t allow them to work from home, an employer can reduce their physical exertion, make sure they get plenty of extra breaks, or give them more time to use inhalers and nebulizers for shortness of breath, for example. They can also provide individual mobility devices, such as electric scooters, so an employee can get around without exhausting themselves, says Bates-Harris.
Those who have brain fog may prefer a quieter workspace. There are also apps that can help, including some that can help workers keep track of tasks and stay organized. Employers can also provide a shorter work day or establish a more flexible work schedule, while maintaining the employees’ full-time status.
“I don’t care if my people show up at 4 in the morning and work until 10 in the morning,” says Darras. “Whatever type of flextime works for them, I want to make sure I’m flexible to make my facility accessible.”
A collaborative work environment and the use of shared tools and documents can help reduce interruptions if an employee is sick or absent. Recorded Zoom meetings can also help employees catch up and stay connected. An employee can request different responsibilities and tasks more appropriate to her health status.
As an employer, Darras has tried to make these accommodations, saying it’s an opportunity for employers to figure out how to keep staff happy.
A legal right to go on leave
Ultimately, a prolonged COVID requires employers to be more flexible, experts say. If a worker is exhausted from a busy week, they may need to take time off to recuperate or attend medical appointments. Bates noted that one of the biggest complaints his organization receives is calls related to time off and attendance.
While every case is different, in the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act give many workers a number of protected rights, including unpaid sick leave. Those who work for a business with 50 or more employees or for a public or government entity for at least 1,250 hours over the course of 12 months may qualify for up to 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave per year.
The Leave Act protects an employee from being fired for taking extended leave and requires employers to continue their group health benefits during that period of leave.
If people have prolonged COVID symptoms so severe that they are unable to work at all, they may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, advocates say. But they caution that the process to qualify may not be quick or easy, and is compounded by the fact that many with prolonged COVID are unable to work due to extreme fatigue and mental fogginess, making the physical application process difficult. even more discouraging.
Reassessment of workplace policies
As many costs related to the pandemic shift from the government to individuals and the private sector, employers will need to decide what kinds of workplace benefits and health coverage they offer, says Pooja Kumar, MD, a senior partner at McKinsey who runs the company. work in public health in the United States.
“How are your benefit structures? How consistent are they with the known impact of prolonged COVID? he says, adding that it’s not just about benefits and adaptations. “How do you continue to motivate the workforce when people are operating at 80% for physiological reasons?”
Darras says employers should also have a COVID-19 safety plan and make sure the company’s short-term and long-term disability insurance benefits have no caps on self-reported conditions — symptoms like pain and chronic fatigue that are difficult to verify using doctors. tests but that are common among long COVID patients. It’s something he’s done at his own company, and he suggests employers seek guidance from a regional Occupational Safety and Health Administration office if needed.
Part-time employees shouldn’t be forgotten either, advocates say. Employers may want to consider what they can do to help part-time staff qualify for disability insurance.
While many of these adaptations can cost money, advocates emphasize long-term benefits.
“The institutional knowledge and experience that current employees have far outweighs anything they’re going to get from hiring a new street person and training them,” says Bates-Harris. “Employers who have experience hiring people with disabilities learned a long time ago that the cost of accommodating an employee far outweighs the cost of hiring new employees.”
With less than 3 years of information on COVID-19, Craven also highlights the importance of being nimble. “Create policies now, but revise them over time based on new information, how people use them, how they work for employees, how they work for employers,” she says.
“Version one doesn’t have to be perfect.”
Employers can also contact the Job Accommodation Network, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. It is a leading source of free, expert, and confidential advice on issues including workplace accommodations and employment for the disabled. .
It’s a resource many employers are unaware of, Bates-Harris says, and it’s “designed to keep people on the job and allow employers to retain employees for the long term.”
Employers can also check the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that deals with employment discrimination, or the Department of Labor website for more information about their legal obligations.
“Frankly, as an employer, I am responsible for [my employees]so I looked at it and said, “It’s just an investment in my people,” says Darras, who has a large percentage of staff who have been with the company for more than 20 years.
“I want people to retire with me. … I want them to be healthy and prosper.”