The U.S. government and health organizations have declared the COVID-19 public health emergency over.
But disabled people remain at higher risk as the world moves on, and they might have to turn to attorneys to fight for proper accommodations in the workplace.
Matthew W. Dietz, clinical director at Disability Inclusion and Advocacy Law Clinic in Florida, said plaintiffs have already filed suits seeking to make remote work a “reasonable accommodation” for disabled people under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“These people want to continue to work remotely because of an immunocompromised state,” Dietz said. For “the folks that want to remain at home and telecommute, it brings up difficult questions about what jobs can be done remotely.”
Sheldon Toubman, litigation attorney at Disability Rights Connecticut, said that as long as the job can be thoroughly completed, remote work is a reasonable accommodation that employers would have to grant qualified employees.
The attorneys said workers most likely to require accommodation include those with invisible chronic illnesses, such as post-COVID-19 syndrome, also known as long COVID-19, and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, which causes a rapid increase in one’s heartbeat when an individual stands up.
The attorneys also caution against potential missteps by employers. “People who don’t really understand what accommodations are necessary bring up a lot of questions about whether or not somebody is qualified, and if people are going to be too much of a direct threat to themselves,” Dietz said.
The lawyers point out, for instance, that long COVID-19 symptoms can range from chronic fatigue, brain fog and difficulty breathing. And Dietz said failing to provide an accommodation could lead to a spike in workplace claims.
“Someone could tell their employer they have post-COVID syndrome, and the employer might not believe them,” Dietz said. “When we’re talking about invisible disabilities, that’s what happens a lot. And it is going to happen more for long COVID because it stems from a highly politically charged pandemic.”
Toubman warned against “COVID-19 skeptics” who might question the disease itself and not accommodate employees.
“People want to move on completely, and want to act as if there is nothing left of this tragedy,” Toubman said. “I could see that employers would be less interested accommodating as time goes by.”