New Guidance About COVID-19 and Disability Under the Americans with Disabilities Act
As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has updated its Guidance about when COVID-19 is considered a disability and would then qualify a person for the protections pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This supplements Guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) about whether Long COVID is a disability under the ADA. (Long COVID and the ADA)
The guidance, released in December 2021, is clear that contracting COVID-19 is not automatically considered a disability. Rather, the symptoms of COVID-19 that resolve in a few weeks with no additional consequences are specifically NOT considered disabilities. In fact, the EEOC Guidance says that the disability analysis is exactly the same for COVID as it is for any other possibly disabling condition. The EEOC also states that a person who has experienced COVID-19 and fulfills the criteria, below, can be regarded as an individual with a disability.
The analysis to determine if COVID-19 has resulted in a disability is as follows:
- Are there any physical or mental impairments that substantially limit a major life activity? This is a three-part analysis.
- The condition can be a physical or mental disorder or condition that affects one or more body systems. Because COVID-19 does affect body systems, it is automatically considered an impairment for purposes of the ADA.
- The list of “major life activities” is so large that it encompasses a huge array of what typically happens in a person’s life. Things like sleeping, breathing, eating, walking, standing, sitting, speaking, hearing, thinking, and a variety of other actions are the major life activities considered in the analysis. The functioning of a bodily organ is also considered a major life activity.
- When considering whether the activity is “substantially limited”, the HHS Guidance specifically says that this is defined broadly and “should not demand extensive analysis”. In fact, the impairment does not actually need to prevent or significantly restrict a person from participating in that major life activity. Also, the any limitation that is experienced does not even need to be severe, nor does it need to be permanent or long term. The safest interpretation of this guidance is that nearly any limitation of the major life activity will be considered “substantial” for purposes of the ADA.
The truly helpful aspects of the new EEOC Guidance are the examples. For instance, the following are considered ADA-qualifying COVID-19 disabilities:
- ongoing but intermittent multiple-day headaches;
- brain fog;
- difficulty concentrating that a doctor has attributed to the virus;
- the need for supplemental oxygen’
- heart palpitations’
- chest pain
- And some Long COVID symptoms such as lingering intestinal pain, vomiting, and nausea.
Examples offered that are NOT considered COVID-related disabilities under the ADA are symptoms that resolve within a few weeks, such as:
- Sore throat;
- Gastrointestinal discomfort.
Despite the nearly two-year wait for the EEOC to provide Guidance about the interplay between the ADA and COVID-19, no new analysis was provided. The standard disability analysis should be used anytime a situation is presented where the ADA may apply.
To learn more about how this guidance affects the printing industry and what to expect in the future, join PRINTING United Alliance to gain access to the foremost experts in the space as well as to answer individual questions as it relates to your business operation.
And, as COVID mandate changes are rapidly evolving, members can reach out to our expert Alliance staff for further questions on this, or other important matters: Marci Kinter, VP, Government & Regulatory Affairs: firstname.lastname@example.org; Gary Jones, Director, Environmental, Health and Safety Affairs: email@example.com; and Adriane Harrison, VP, Human Relations Consulting: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adriane Harrison is Vice President, Human Relations Consulting at PRINTING United Alliance. Adriane assists members with a wide variety of HR matters involving statutes, regulations, policies, procedures, culture, and staffing, as well as the gamut of day-to-day HR issues. In addition, she supports professional development by conducting webinars, participating in panel discussions, and speaking at industry events on human resources issues. Currently, Adriane is the Chairperson of the Graphic Communications Workforce Coalition, a member of the Women in Print Alliance, and a founder of the Women’s Print Mentoring Network.
Adriane received a journalism degree from the University of Illinois and a law degree from DePaul University in Chicago. As an attorney, Adriane practiced in both the public and private sectors. Her work was in the areas of Constitutional, commercial, securities, and criminal law. Adriane and her family live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.