Overworked, sad, tired, female healthcare worker sitting on the floor of a hospital corridor

More than two years into adjusting to the “new normal” brought on by COVID-19, employers now are faced with navigating the reality of “long COVID,” a wide range of ongoing health problems that can last weeks, months or years after an infection.

“It is too early to have comprehensive data or a clear picture of employment outcomes but there are reports that claims associated with long COVID are rising for disability insurance, workers’ compensation and group health insurance. Those higher claims could increase costs for insurers and eventually, employers,” the Kaiser Family Foundation reported.

A worker may be considered an “individual with a disability” under Civil Rights laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Under those laws, someone with long COVID has a disability if the person’s condition or any symptoms are a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Long COVID is “a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems that people experience after first being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those conditions may affect workers’ ability to do their jobs. 

The White House tasked HHS in February with devising a government-wide response to long COVID. HHS delivered a report this month on federally funded support and services aimed at helping people who experience long-term symptoms and associated conditions and issued another report proposing a comprehensive research strategy to inform the national response to long COVID.

According to KFF, long COVID may affect 10 million to 33 million working-age adults in the United States, and “surveys show that among adults with long COVID who worked prior to infection, over half are out of work or working fewer hours.”

The Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy is conducting meta-analyses of existing research on COVID-19 and long COVID and developing resources for employers on how to support people with those conditions.