On December 14, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission updated its technical assistance by adding a new section that clarifies when illness caused by COVID-19 can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act.
The technical assistance includes answers to questions about how illnesses caused by COVID-19 relate to the ADA definition of "disability" and what effects from COVID-19 may be considered a disability. It also discusses issues pertaining to reasonable accommodation by employers and circumstances around potential violations of the ADA.
Some highlights from the update:
- In some cases, an applicant's or employee's COVID-19 may cause impairments that are themselves disabilities under the ADA, regardless of whether the initial case of COVID-19 itself constituted an actual disability.
- An applicant or employee whose COVID-19 results in mild symptoms that resolve in a few weeks—with no other consequences—will not have an ADA disability that could make someone eligible to receive reasonable accommodation.
- Applicants or employees with disabilities are not automatically entitled to reasonable accommodations under the ADA. They are entitled to a reasonable accommodation when their disability requires it, and the accommodation is not an undue hardship for the employer. But employers can choose to do more than the ADA requires.
- An employer risks violating the ADA if it relies on myths, fears, or stereotypes about a condition and prevents an employee's return to work once the employee is no longer infectious and, therefore, medically able to return without posing a direct threat to others.
IAFC members and their human resource departments are encouraged to review the EEOC COVID-19 technical assistance and the joint U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Department of Justice guidance on "Long COVID" as a disability.
Ken LaSala is the IAFC's Director of Government Relations & Policy.