Advisen FPN

Advisen Front Page News - Tuesday, November 9, 2021

'Long COVID' adds new complexity to return-to-work considerations


'Long COVID' adds new complexity to return-to-work considerations

By Erin Ayers, Advisen

As workplaces open up, employers must be prepared to navigate a new potential challenge – the long-term ill effects suffered by many COVID-19 survivors that may call for on-the-job accommodations.

A report issued recently by the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) estimates that about 10% of individuals with mild COVID-19 infections may experience persistent symptoms “well beyond four weeks.” Reported complications have ranged from fatigue, shortness of breath, cognitive dysfunction or “brain fog,” dizziness, and other ailments.

Up to 76% of survivors of severe COVID infections also suffer from ongoing effects including respiratory damage, heart problems, and neurological symptoms, according to Dr. Michael Choo, chief medical officer for Paradigm, who authored NCCI’s briefing on this new field of risk.

“Potentially millions of people could become functionally impaired for an extended period of time subsequent to acute COVID-19 illness. This is both sobering and alarming,” said Dr. Choo in the report. NCCI is conducting additional research on the topic for the future.

In July, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently affirmed that the condition could be considered a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). With that classification, employers must provide a workplace free of discrimination and harassment, and provide reasonable accommodations.

“A person with long COVID has a disability if the person’s condition or any of its symptoms is a ‘physical or mental’ impairment that ‘substantially limits’ one or more major life activities,” the agency said in its guidance.

Questions for employers surrounding “long COVID” abound – will it be considered a preexisting condition for hiring purposes? What will constitute reasonable accommodations? Experts note that even if long COVID is temporary for an individual, it could still qualify as a disability. A recent brief from Foley & Lardner LLP advised employers to keep an eye out for guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and to review all existing ADA accommodations policies.

Employers see the implications of long-haul COVID for workers compensation and employment practices liability (EPL) and are being “extremely cautious,” according to Michael Vitulli, director of risk management services at Risk Strategies. It’s a “developing and vague sort of field” right now, one that that organizations are helping to address with the help of their insurance brokers.

“Our clients are very concerned about addressing this fairly,” Vitulli told Advisen. He likened long COVID to employers’ experience dealing with workers diagnosed with Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness that can cause a wide range of impairments.

Per the HHS, long COVID is not always necessarily a recognized disability, making the assessment process more challenging for employers. Several industries hit hard by COVID also face long-term worker shortages that make retaining the existing employees and attracting new ones a key concern, another factor in developing post-COVID policies. Going forward, organizations need to have clear policies on benefits, reasonable accommodations, and return-to-work procedures for workers who have been found to have contracted COVID-19 on the job.

“We like to make sure that they have very specific detailed process in place for assessing and erring on the side of caution,” Vitulli said. Organizations should also ensure human resources and legal/finance departments are coordinating well and communicating, he added.

“It comes down to making sure you’re treating employees fairly,” said Vitulli.

Editor Erin Ayers can be reached at

Philadelphia Insurance
Risk Strategies
St. John's University