Is long COVID an FMLA serious health condition?
Key to remember: Whether long COVID or any condition qualifies for FMLA leave is a matter of whether it meets the FMLA’s definition of a serious health condition.
Applies to: All public employers and private employers with at least 50 employees in the U.S.
Impact to customers: Customers may have been reading how long COVID can be a disability under the ADA, and wonder if that extrapolates to mean that it could be an FMLA serious health condition. If so, customers should be aware of this for future reference.
At the end of July, President Biden indicated that long COVID can be a disability under various federal civil rights laws, one of those laws being the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If the condition can be a disability, could it also be a serious health condition under the FMLA?
In short, yes.
People with long COVID have a range of new or ongoing symptoms that can last weeks or months after they are infected with the virus and the symptoms can worsen with physical or mental activity. Therefore, if employees are unable work because they have the following example symptoms, they might have long COVID:
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes called “brain fog”)
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Dizziness on standing
- Fast-beating or pounding heart (known as heart palpitations)
- Chest pain
- Joint or muscle pain
- Depression or anxiety
- Loss of taste or smell
Some people also experience damage to multiple organs including the heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, and brain.
As with any condition for which an employee requests leave that could be FMLA-qualifying, go through the FMLA process. Ask for a certification supporting the need for leave and compare the information in the certification to the FMLA’s definition of a serious health condition. You can find the definition on the fourth page of the certification.
Long COVID could meet the part of the definition that deals with a period of incapacity of more than three days along with treatment. It could also be considered a chronic or even a long-term condition.
Long COVID won’t always be an FMLA serious health condition, but it certainly could be, depending upon the intensity of the symptoms. A mild headache might not result in an employee being incapacitated, but a severe headache might.
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.
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