Masked Asian man show wooden sign with wording "Long Covid"
(Credit: Jikaboom / Getty Images)

While the world is still learning about the nature of long COVID-19 and how it affects individuals, the federal government is making it clear that it is considered a disability and that employers need to make accommodations for their new and future employees.

US Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy Taryn Williams laid out the “whole government approach” to the condition — or conditions — that comprise long COVID during a LeadingAge membership call on Monday. She also provided a variety of resources for employers to learn their responsibilities.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation has seen 97 million total COVID-19 cases and more than 1 million deaths. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that as of the week ending Oct. 1, the US lost about 790,000 older adults to the virus and account for 75% of all COVID deaths. According to the National Research Action Plan on Long COVID from the Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 1 million workers may be out of the workforce at any given time due to long COVID, equating to approximately $50 billion dollars annually in lost salary.

“Our message is, foremost, that the federal government has clearly stated that long COVID can be a disability,” Williams said, referencing President Biden’s announcement in July 2021 regarding resources to support those with long COVID. “Federal policy has really outlined the rights of people with long COVID to reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Williams said the Labor Department worked with other agencies, including HHS, as well as patient groups and other external stakeholders, to create a working definition of long COVID. The definition builds on the CDC’s characterization of long COVID as signs, symptoms or conditions that continue or develop after an initial COVID infection.

Williams said that COVID represents many potentially overlapping conditions that are challenging the medical, government and business communities. 

“We want folks to understand that long COVID can be considered a disability and is very much a real condition that is affecting individuals across the nation, and they have rights and protections that exist,” Williams said, adding that the Labor Department is working get “get the word out” about supports people may be able to access.

She acknowledged that policies, programs and technical assistance around long COVID will continue to evolve as the agency continues a dialogue with other stakeholders on the ongoing effect of the pandemic on the workforce.

In December 2021, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in updated guidance that some people with long COVID-19 may qualify for disability resources under the ADA.

Resources about long COVID available to employers and employees:

  • — A clearinghouse for all COVID-19-related information from the US government
  • — Office of Disability Employment Policy of the Labor Department
  • — Job Accommodation Network form the Office of Disability Employment Policy provides technical assistance about job accommodations and the ADA

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