Key to remember: Some employees who had the COVID-19 virus may have long-term effects which could warrant FMLA leave even if the initial infection was not all that serious.
Applies to: All public employers and private employers with 50 or more employees.
Impact to customers: Customers need to know that even after beating an infection of the virus, employees may still need FMLA leave if they have lingering symptoms.
The pandemic might be winding down, but its effects might continue to be noticed, in part as employees seek time off to care for lingering symptoms — both physical and mental — long after being infected.
The virus can cause damage to the lungs, heart, nervous system, kidneys, liver, and other organs. Mental health problems can arise from grief and loss, unresolved pain or fatigue, or from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after treatment in an intensive care unit.
According to the CDC, the most common lasting symptoms are fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, joint pain, and chest pain. Other issues include cognitive problems, difficulty concentrating, depression, muscle pain, headache, rapid heartbeat, and intermittent fever.
These symptoms might appear long after the individual recovered from the infection, and any of these could cause an employee to need time off, which could fall under the FMLA. Researchers estimate about 10 to 20 percent of COVID-19 patients may become long haulers.
For long haulers, the virus is no longer running amok in the body, so they will likely not test positive, but they might be severely debilitated, nonetheless.
So, if any of your employees had COVID-19, some may be long-haulers and need FMLA leave for the persistent symptoms. Some symptoms may even be permanent, leading to potential chronic conditions under the FMLA.
The science behind the reasons some people become long-haulers is not yet fully understood. The symptoms and their intensity vary among people. Some may have one symptom while others will have a combination. The symptoms may last weeks or many months.
Any time an employee needs time off for a medical condition, including long-haul COVID, treat it as you would any notice of the need for leave. Just because an employee had COVID in the past does not mean that the employee won’t need FMLA leave for related symptoms in the future.
As part of the FMLA process, ask the employee for a certification supporting the need for leave. That certification should provide enough information to determine whether the employee’s (or a family member’s) condition meets the FMLA’s definition of a serious health condition.
Conveniently, the certification includes the definition on the last page, so you need not look far. Remember that not all conditions require a period of incapacity of more than three days. The lasting condition has many names, including PASC, which stands for post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2; post-COVID syndrome; long COVID; or long-term COVID.
Long haulers may also have protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act and any applicable state laws.
This article was written by Darlene M. Clabault, SHRM-CP, PHR, CLMS, of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. The content of these news items, in whole or in part, MAY NOT be copied into any other uses without consulting the originator of the content.