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How long COVID is deeply impacting the workforce

With an estimated 4 million Americans out of work due to long COVID, now an ADA-protected disability, what must employers now do?

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TLDR: Long COVID and its impact on employment Politics aside, there’s a lot about COVID that we just don’t know. Short-term, COVID may feel like a cold or the flu, while others do not experience any symptoms. With more treatment options and vaccines available today, the country seems to be trying to getting back to business as usual.

Still, COVID has had a strong impact on the economy, the workforce, and life in general. Although the government is trying to understand the impact of COVID, there are many unknowns that complicate the issue. One of these is long COVID, AKA post-COVID conditions, chronic COVID, or long-term effects of COVID.   

What is long COVID? 

Long COVID, according to the CDC, can include a wide range of ongoing health problems that can last for weeks, months, and possibly years. The symptoms generally start about four weeks after contracting COVID and can include: 

  • Fatigue that interferes with daily life
  • Fever
  • Difficulty thinking – brain fog
  • Sleep problems 
  • Cough, chest pain, and rapid heartbeat
  • Joint pain and more 

Long COVID doesn’t affect everyone the same way.

There aren’t any ways to diagnose post-COVID conditions, and many of the symptoms are the same as other health problems. According to the CDC, some of these symptoms cannot be explained by tests, making it difficult to diagnose and get treated for long COVID.

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Researchers are still trying to understand who is impacted and who might be more likely to develop long COVID, but even those who didn’t have COVID symptoms or those who got vaccinated can experience long COVID. Currently, there aren’t any long-term solutions for long COVID, just getting care from the medical community to have a personal management plan to manage symptoms. 

How long COVID is affecting the workplace

NPR estimates that 4 million full-time workers are out of work due to long COVID.

U.S. News & World Report puts the figure at 20% of Americans affected with long COVID.

Some of these workers have jobs and started underperforming, causing their supervisors to put them on an improvement plan or getting fired outright for not being able to do the job as well as they once could.

Many employers aren’t aware of long COVID and its impact, nor are they prepared to deal with workers’ disabilities. 

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Although long COVID is considered a disability under the ADA, getting accommodations in the workplace isn’t always an easy task.

As we reported on endometriosis, “it’s going to take a major shift in thinking” to deal with the long COVID problems. Because no one knows how long chronic COVID will last, it’s difficult to know how long accommodations must last or if a worker is improving and on the right path. In some jobs, it can be impossible to make accommodations to support workers with chronic conditions and long COVID. 

What can employers do about long COVID? 

COVID changed workplace culture. Employers and employees pivoted under COVID to keep their businesses going.

Now, we need another transformation in the workplace to manage long COVID patients who want to be productive but cannot handle the same workload as they did before COVID.

The U.S. Department of Labor and other agencies are crowdsourcing ideas to manage long COVID accommodations in the workplace. 

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The Labor Department also has A Guide for Employers on supporting employees with long COVID.

Employers may need to balance compassion and empathy for employees while finding solutions for workplace issues, such as meeting regulatory standards and maintaining a level of productivity. Long COVID joins a long list of chronic health problems that are barriers to employment

Let’s do better and find ways to give people with disabilities the opportunity to support themselves. 

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Dawn Brotherton is a Sr. Staff Writer at The American Genius with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Oklahoma. She is an experienced business writer with over 10 years of experience in SEO and content creation. Since 2017, she has earned $60K+ in grant writing for a local community center, which assists disadvantaged adults in the area.

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