Does "Long COVID" Qualify as a Disability Under the ADA?

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

August 3, 2021

People who continue to experience COVID symptoms months after first being infected may qualify as disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That's according to a jointly released guidance by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

Speaking on the ADA's anniversary last week, President Biden said accommodations for these conditions are needed for "long-haulers," as the condition is sometimes called, "so they can live their lives in dignity."

The guidance explains that long COVID can be a disability under both the ADA and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, both of which protect people with disabilities from discrimination. It also notes that long COVID can substantially limit one or more major life activities, including caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, lifting and other activities.

Some examples of common symptoms of long COVID may include:

  • Tiredness or fatigue;
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes called "brain fog");
  • Shortness of breath;
  • Dizziness;
  • Heart palpitations;
  • Chest pain;
  • Joint or muscle pain;
  • Depression or anxiety; and
  • Loss of taste or smell.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these symptoms can worsen due to physical or mental activity.

However, the latest jointly released guidance makes clear that long COVID will not always qualify as a disability in noting that "an individualized assessment is necessary to determine whether a person's long COVID condition, or any of its symptoms, substantially limits a major life activity."

Employers will sometimes need to make changes to the way they operate to accommodate a person's long COVID-related limitations. Earlier this summer, the US Department of Labor published guidance clarifying that employers must try to reasonably accommodate workers suffering from long COVID through modified equipment or work schedules.