By Deborah Hopkins, January 11, 2022

Last month, EEOC released updated guidance on whether COVID-19 meets the definition of “disability” under the law. Which raises the question, is a person who has contracted COVID-19 a qualified individual with a disability for the purposes of reasonable accommodation (RA) under the Americans with Disabilities ACT (ADA) and related laws?

It depends.

COVID-19 itself is not automatically a medical condition that rises to the level of a disability because most cases are transitory and minor. According to the guidance:

A person infected with the virus causing COVID-19 who is asymptomatic or a person whose COVID-19 results in mild symptoms similar to those of the common cold or flu that resolve in a matter of weeks — with no other consequences — will not have an actual disability within the meaning of the ADA. However, depending on the specific facts involved in a particular employee’s medical condition, an individual with COVID-19 might have an actual disability…

What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws, N.2.

The guidance reminds agencies that in cases where long-haul COVID is experienced by an employee, each and every reasonable accommodation request needs an individualized analysis to determine if the employee has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity and qualifies for the RA process.

Here’s an example of COVID-19 rising to the level of a disability:

“An individual diagnosed with COVID-19 who experiences ongoing but intermittent multiple-day headaches, dizziness, brain fog, and difficulty remembering or concentrating, which the employee’s doctor attributes to the virus, is substantially limited in neurological and brain function, concentrating, and/or thinking, among other major life activities.”

And here’s an example where COVID-19 does NOT rise to the level of a disability:

“An individual who is diagnosed with COVID-19 who experiences congestion, sore throat, fever, headaches, and/or gastrointestinal discomfort, which resolve within several weeks, but experiences no further symptoms or effects, is not substantially limited in a major bodily function or other major life activity, and therefore does not have an actual disability under the ADA. This is so even though this person is subject to CDC guidance for isolation during the period of infectiousness.”

Id. at N.4.

So, even if an employee gets a severe case of COVID-19 with a high fever, perhaps even hospitalization, unless there are long-term effects or symptoms generally lasting longer than six months, then the individual does not have a disability and, therefore, is not entitled to the RA process.

The guidance also cautions agencies to be aware of situations where a COVID-19 infection, even one that does not rise to the level of a disability, may worsen underlying conditions or even create medical conditions that rise to the level of a disability:

  • An individual who had COVID-19 develops heart inflammation
  • During the course of COVID-19, an individual suffers an acute ischemic stroke
  • After an individual’s COVID-19 resolves, the individual develops diabetes attributed to the COVID-19

Id. at N.9.

We’ll be tackling all this and much more during the upcoming and updated-for-2022 Virtual Training Event Managing COVID-related EEO Challenges in the Federal Workplace on February 8. Hope you’ll make the time to join us. [email protected]

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