Employees who contract COVID-19 may be protected from discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said in a new guidance.
Evaluated on a case-by-case basis, coronavirus infection can meet the ADA’s three definitions for a disability. These definitions cover actual physical or mental impairments that substantially limit a major life activity, an employer’s perception that a worker has a disability, or the worker’s record of impairment.
For example, someone suffering from COVID-19 who has headaches for several days due to the virus would qualify as having an impairment under the ADA.
According to the guidance, “even if the symptoms related to COVID-19 come and go, COVID-19 is an actual disability if it substantially limits a major life activity when active.”
Also, the limitations from the virus “do not necessarily have to last any particular length of time to be substantially limiting. They also need not be long-term,” the guidance says.
Health issues that result from COVID-19, such as a stroke that limits brain function, could be considered a disability under the Act.
However, COVID-19 will not always be considered a disability under the ADA, the EEOC said. Under the guidance, employers must consider each employee individually to determine if they qualify as disabled. For example, asymptomatic COVID or exhibiting mild flu-like symptoms wouldn’t qualify.
The EEOC’s guidance expands on its September update, which said that workers who suffer from “long-haul” COVID-19 may be considered disabled under the ADA “in certain circumstances.” The Department of Health & Human Services and the Department of Justice have also said that long COVID could be considered a disability.
“This update to our COVID-19 information provides an additional resource for employees and employers facing the varied manifestations of COVID-19,” EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said in a statement. “Like effects from other diseases, effects from COVID-19 can lead to a disability protected under the laws the EEOC enforces. Workers with disabilities stemming from COVID-19 are protected from employment discrimination and may be eligible for reasonable accommodations.”