On July 26, 2021, the HHS and DOJ jointly released guidance on long COVID as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Section 1557 of the ACA. These federal laws protect people with disabilities from discrimination.
The guidance recognizes that some people continue to experience symptoms that can last weeks or months after first being infected with COVID-19, or some may develop new or recurring symptoms at a later time. The guidance describes this condition as “long COVID.”
The guidance states that “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.” “Major life activities” are defined broadly and includes performing manual tasks, thinking, communicating and working. The term also includes the operation of a major bodily function — for instance, the functions of the cardiovascular system or neurological system.
If an individual’s long COVID is qualified as a disability, then they are entitled to the same protections from discrimination as any other person with a disability under the respective laws noted earlier, including reasonable modifications and accommodations in certain circumstances.
At this time, it is not explicitly described how this new guidance will affect employee benefit matters. However, this guidance will likely reinforce the EEOC’s COVID-19 related rules. Moreover, employers should consider this guidance when designing and providing wellness programs and benefit plans in order to avoid any discrimination concerning long COVID.
We anticipate that we will have more tangible applications of this guidance for employee benefit purposes through the additional insights from the agencies or through the industry response to the guidance. We will continue to monitor developments relating to the potential impact on employee benefits and provide key updates as they become available.
Source: NFP BenefitsPartners