Washington, D.C., August 10 – Given widespread community transmission of COVID-19 in the United States, millions of workers are now facing the prospect of infection and potentially developing Long COVID. In order to address the long-term consequences of the pandemic and how it is reshaping the nation’s workforce, the U.S. Department of Labor is currently hosting an online, national policy dialogue about Long COVID.
In response, the policy professionals of RespectAbility, a national nonpartisan disability advocacy organization, contributed to the ePolicyWorks dialogue, advising government and employers on strategies to boost the resilience of workers with Long COVID.
“RespectAbility is prioritizing strategies to keep workers with Long COVID in the workforce,” said Philip Kahn-Pauli, RespectAbility’s Director of Federal Policy. “The pandemic has grown the disability community in unprecedented ways, and we want to help newly disabled employees adapt to their place in our community while continuing to earn an income.”
Highlights of RespectAbility’s recommendations include:
- Stay-At-Work/Return-to-Work (SAW/RTW) efforts to adapt the existing workspace, provide reasonable accommodations, or adjust tasks/job requirements.
- Fighting Disability Stigmas and Encouraging Self-Identification
- Encourage Employers with Hybrid Work Strategies to Ensure that Remote Workers with Disabilities aren’t Second Class Workers
- Encourage the development of new apps and other assistive technology to address brain fog/cognitive impairments of Long COVID
- Separate Sick Leave Categories for COVID, Long COVID related symptoms and other Illnesses
- Retraining for Workers with Long COVID Who Need to Reskill.
“Newly disabled COVID-19 survivors need to be empowered with resources on how to adjust to a wide range of physical consequences and limitations,” said Ollie Cantos, RespectAbility’s Chairman. “Long haulers need to be met at their new energy level with resources on how to maintain activities that hold value to them.”
Employer policies such as reducing employee workload, ensuring employees can attend treatment, and providing time to rest have been associated with better outcomes. These policies require a certain flexibility and creativity in employment and scheduling. Employer support is critical and can be mutually beneficial for the employer and employee.
One issue that has not yet been fully addressed by the ePolicyWorks dialogue is the problem of testing and documentation. Testing is not always conclusive, and many workers are unable to report proof of COVID-19 infection resulting in Long COVID. A lack of proof of infection imperil future access to supports and services. Additionally, the wide variability of COVID symptoms is further complicating short-term and long-term disability claims. As such, it is critical that more workers with disabilities and those with direct experience with Long COVID make their voices heard via the platform offered by the federal government.
The deadline to participate in this important online policy dialogue has been extended to August 15. Visit the ePolicyWorks website to learn more and make your voice heard.