How Managers Can Support Employees with Long COVID

Most people who contract coronavirus disease (COVID-19) recover entirely within a few weeks. But some people — even those with mild versions of the disease — continue to experience symptoms after their initial recovery. COVID-19 symptoms can sometimes persist for months or longer. People who must manage long-term symptoms sometimes describe themselves as “long haulers.” The conditions have been called post-COVID-19 syndrome or “long COVID-19.” 

Findings from a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that COVID-19 survivors were significantly more likely to have conditions attributable to previous COVID-19. One in five COVID-19 survivors aged 18–64 years and one in four survivors 65 and older experienced at least one incident condition that might be attributable to previous COVID-19. Conditions were seen in several organ systems, including the heart, kidneys, and lungs. The most common conditions in both age groups were respiratory symptoms and musculoskeletal pain. Another key finding was that older adults in the study were at increased risk for developing neurologic disorders and mental health issues. Researchers also found that COVID-19 survivors have twice the risk of developing pulmonary embolism or respiratory conditions.

While long COVID is an umbrella term that includes diverse symptoms and experiences, some symptoms can impair people’s ability to work. Does this mean these individuals must give up working forever? No, not at all. It means that employers will need to work with them to determine how to best support them with reasonable accommodations so that these individuals can succeed in their work. This article suggests seven ways managers can help employees with long COVID. One of the most important things an employer can do is create a safe environment for open communication. Disclosing information about a disability or chronic illness can be intimidating for employees. Employers can make it easier if employees know it’s okay to discuss their needs without fear of being stigmatized or having to worry that their confidential information will be shared throughout the library/organization.

The article also states that employers must consider job flexibility and be open to change. Saying things like, “Our policy doesn’t allow for that,” or “We’ve never had an employee work in this manner or with this type of schedule,” won’t suffice. One manager emphasized that “it was more important to find sustainable long-term solutions than force an employee back into her original workflow.” The article says, “The important thing is for employers to avoid making blanket assumptions or policies and instead defer to individual employees living with chronic illnesses about their preferred methods for mitigating risk.” Employers can retain workers, improve morale and enhance the workplace culture if they are willing to accommodate workers’ needs. Employers should also remember that the law requires them to do so.