At first when I contracted COVID, it wasn’t so bad. I thought “I can deal with this.” Then came the night when I couldn’t get out of bed. I had to let the dogs out, so I rolled out of bed, crawled down the stairs, opened the back door, and let them out. Then I sank to the floor and called my son. He took me to the hospital.
I got well, or so I thought.
It turns out, I’m what they call a “long hauler.” I’m chronically exhausted. Some nights it’s like a war in my head. At work, I go in and out of a brain fog. I forget what I’m about to do.
My boss put up with it for a while, but now says he can’t run his business with me calling in sick every couple of days. He says, “Come back when you’re 100%.” But I don’t know that I’ll ever be 100% again.
First, you’re not alone. According to Penn State College of Medicine researchers, more than half of the 236 million people diagnosed with COVID-19 worldwide experience residual COVID-related health issues up to six months after recovering.1 According to the Washington Post’s December 9th report, medical specialists predict 750,000 to 1.3 million workers will remain too sick that they can’t return to full-time work.2
What you’re up against.
Insurance is not a safety net as insurers have restored deductibles and co-pays, leaving sick individuals with large bills despite their lack of income. Because “long covid” is a new disease without an established diagnostic or treatment plan, insurers may deny coverage for certain tests.2 Some who leave work for medical reasons aren’t eligible for unemployment insurance.2 Some who apply for disability insurance benefits face denials, in part because the medical community hasn’t yet determined how to diagnose their symptoms.2 Once on disability, they may find both private and public disability insurers deny many claims.2
Long COVID can be a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).3 This offers you some protection from being fired if you can do your job, with reasonable accommodations without it being an undue hardship for your employer.4 Here’s the suggestion offered by Mayo Clinic occupational medical specialist Greg Vanichkachorn, employers “need to understand that many long haulers should return to work on a limited, part-time basis, perhaps working from home, while they slowly work on building strength.”2 This counters your boss’s “come back when you’re 100%.”
Your boss initially worked with you, and it may be an undue hardship for him to continue to employ you. Alternatively, he may be willing to allow you to work on a limited part-time basis, particularly if he knows you might be covered by the ADA. Ask him.
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