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HHS and DOJ Jointly Publish Disability Guidance for COVID-19

On July 26, 2021, HHS and DOJ jointly published a document titled "Guidance on 'Long COVID' as a Disability Under the ADA, Section 504, and Section 1557."

On July 26, 2021, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) jointly published a document titled “Guidance on ‘Long COVID’ as a Disability Under the ADA, Section 504, and Section 1557.” In this guidance document, HHS and DOJ describe the symptoms of long COVID and the different vital organs that the condition damages, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, and brain. Because the long-term effects of this condition can be so serious, the agencies specify that long COVID can be considered a disability under Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), which protect people with disabilities from discrimination. To qualify for these protections, a person’s long COVID symptoms must satisfy a two-prong test: their symptoms must represent a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

HHS and DOJ offer several examples of COVID-19 health outcomes that could result in a physical or mental impairment:

  • Lung damage;

  • Heart damage, including inflammation of the heart muscle;

  • Kidney damage;

  • Neurological damage;

  • Damage to the circulatory system resulting in poor blood flow; and

  • Lingering emotional illness and other mental health conditions.

If a person’s symptoms represent a physical or mental impairment similar to those listed above, the impairment must substantially limit one or more major life activities to be considered a qualifying disability. While a multitude of health outcomes caused by COVID-19 could satisfy this requirement, HHS and DOJ clarify that being experiencing long COVID does not automatically qualify as a disability. The agencies offer some examples of situations where a person’s physical or mental impairment resulting from COVID-19 substantially limits one or more major life activities:

  • A person with long COVID who has lung damage that causes shortness of breath, fatigue, and related effects is substantially limited in respiratory function, among other major life activities.

  • A person with long COVID who has symptoms of intestinal pain, vomiting, and nausea that have lingered for months is substantially limited in gastrointestinal function, among other major life activities.

  • A person with long COVID who experiences memory lapses and “brain fog” is substantially limited in brain function, concentrating, and/or thinking.

These protections provide a guarantee that people living with disabilities are entitled to full and equal opportunities to participate in and enjoy all aspects of civil and commercial life. If you are experiencing debilitating symptoms of long COVID, you can also apply for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration. Additionally, the Administration for Community Living has published a guide to connect you with community supports and services. To learn more about COVID-19 and employment discrimination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has published an employment discrimination resource page.

What is Long-term Disability Insurance?

Long-term disability (LTD) insurance is a type of insurance that provides financial protection for employees who are unable to work due to a disability. It can help to replace a portion of an employee’s lost income and can provide important financial support for those who are facing a long-term illness or injury.

Patient-Led Researchers Publish Comprehensive Study on Long COVID

On January 13, 2023, a major study authored by Hannah E. Davis, Lisa McCorkell, Julia Moore Vogel, and Eric J. Topol was published in Nature Reviews Microbiology. This study, titled “Long COVID: major findings, mechanisms and recommendations,” provides a comprehensive overview of long COVID and the current understanding of the associated pathophysiology.

How Do I Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits?

If you meet the eligibility requirements for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs, you may be able to receive disability benefits, even if you are not covered by a private or employer-sponsored disability insurance plan.

Can My Employer Terminate Me After I Request Workplace Accommodations?

“I’m experiencing debilitating long-term symptoms of COVID-19, including vertigo and cognitive impairment. I notified my employer about my disability and requested accommodations to help me perform my job duties. Shortly afterward, I was terminated from my job. Were my rights violated?”