Long COVID and Handling the Return to Work

The COVID-19 pandemic was hard on everyone, but especially so with employers.  They had to ensure that their businesses continued in the worst of circumstances.  There were issues with government mandated business shutdowns, mass employee furloughs, issues with getting businesses back up and running while trying to stay in compliance with ever changing workplace rules regarding physical distancing, masks and disinfection, issues with working from home like setting up remote systems and providing employees with equipment to make it work, issues with denied business interruption insurance complaints, employees off with COVID-19, employees off with reactions to the vaccines, etc., etc.  With every new iteration of COVID-19 or change in government response and mandates, businesses had to change their approach to their day to day practices.  For some businesses it was an inconvenience that is now hopefully over.  For other businesses it forced them to shut down.  Now, in 2023 as we are hopefully coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic employers have a new issue to deal with: Long COVID.

While hospitalizations and deaths were the focus in the news at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as our scientific understanding of the COVID-19 virus has improved, as well as our medical response to infections, and in light of the protections from the vaccines and natural immunity, the focus has shifted towards the implications of Long COVID.  For many Long COVID can result in employees taking time off work and going onto long-term disability.  The issue that creates for employers is accommodating an employee’s return to work after time off on long-term disability due to Long COVID.

A Novel Virus Requires Novel Accommodation

We have written prior in this blog about the duties an employer has to accommodate a return to work after being off on long-term disability and significant exposure an employer can face if they fail to meet that duty to accommodate.  Accommodating an employees return can often be difficult, but this is especially so when it comes to employees who were off work due to Long COVID.  One of the reasons for this is that the symptoms of Long COVID are so varied. 

Symptoms of Long COVID include:

  • Loss of Smell
  • Loss of Taste
  • Joint Pain 
  • Muscle Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Memory Issues
  • Cognitive Issues 
  • Fever
  • Persistent Cough
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Dizziness
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety
  • Blood Clots
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach Pain
  • Chest Pain
  • Heart issues
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia

Unlike most disabilities, which usually stem from one symptom/injury with a specific treatment for the same, Long COVID presents with multiple symptoms that are not easily treatable and don’t lend themselves to a one size fits all return-to-work plan.  Long COVID presents more like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which, like Long COVID, can be difficult to diagnosis and treat.  Unlike Chronic Fatigue Syndrome however, Long COVID is a brand new condition that doctors are just learning how to deal with.  Most general practitioners are not up to date on the newest data and treatments for Long COVID and the condition itself has not been around long enough for anyone to know the long-term implications and how best to facilitate a return to work.

Returning to Work From Disability Leave Due to Long COVID

Employers who have employees returning from a disability leave due to Long COVID would be wise to be flexible and expect a slower return to work than anticipated.  Demanding too much too quickly could result in exposing yourself to a Human Rights Complaint.

If you are an employer or employee with an employment issue related to Long COVID contact us today for help.