“Long COVID” Casts Shadow on Hopeful 2021 for Wisconsin COVID Long-Haulers

Spring 2021 brings reason for hope, as many Wisconsinites have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination. However, for some folks who tested positive for COVID-19 since March 2020, the picture looks less rosy. An estimated two percent of COVID-19 patients, or those who tested positive for the disease, have or will develop “long COVID,” becoming “COVID long-haulers.”

What is “Long COVID?”

Long COVID refers to a varied collection of persistent symptoms that last at least four to eight weeks after infection, or new symptoms that usually develop four to eight weeks after infection.

Long COVID symptoms can be the same experienced by many “regular” COVID sufferers – shortness of breath, tiredness, and flu-like symptoms – or unique symptoms that may even crop up after a patient had started to feel better (think: brain fog, severe fatigue, chest discomfort, etc.). COVID long-haulers may struggle with these symptoms as long as nine to 12 months after their initial infection, and though these individuals are no longer infectious, their symptoms – especially exhaustion, memory or cognition lapses, or labored breathing – make it difficult to return to the normal pre-COVID activities of daily life.

Four Options for COVID Long-Haulers Working in Wisconsin

One of the major activities of daily life for many Wisconsin adults is, of course, working. Whether remote or on-site, part-time or full, employment is the cornerstone of most folks’ days, and is vital to paying their bills and raising their families. Unfortunately, long COVID has the potential to make a return to work difficult or impossible for COVID long-haulers. If you or someone you know is experiencing long COVID and is unable to return to work, or in need of changed work conditions during recovery, you have options.

1. Employer-provided disability insurance

Check with your employer or their human resources department to see whether short- and long-term disability benefits are available to you as you recover from long COVID. Symptoms like difficulty breathing, exhaustion, and brain fog may qualify you for disability benefits depending on your policy and the amount of time you will be out of work. Hawks Quindel’s short-term and long-term disability insurance team can help you if you face difficulty accessing coverage.

2. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA provides workers with 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to attend to their own or a family member’s serious health condition. Long COVID can be serious, and you deserve to know that your job is protected while you recover.

Talk with your doctor to be sure that they will provide the medical documentation required, and check with your employer for the materials you will need to seek FMLA leave. As always, the employment team at Hawks Quindel stands ready to assist with your FMLA-related concerns, including if your employer interferes with your attempt to gain FMLA-related leave.

3. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA protects the right of employees with “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities” to receive reasonable accommodations from their employers. If you have long COVID, or if you know someone who does, you know how disabling it can be; the ADA could help you get the accommodations you need to return to work.

An employer is not required to provide the exact accommodation you request, but they should engage with you about what options are available. If your employer fails to accommodate you as you try to return to work with long COVID, or if you feel retaliated against for seeking accommodation, contact the employment team at Hawks Quindel right away.

4. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

SSDI is what a lot of folks think of when they hear “disability:” it is a federal program workers fund via payroll taxes, so that if a worker becomes too disabled to keep working, they can apply to SSDI for monthly benefits. However, SSDI has strict eligibility rules, and most folks who apply for SSDI do not receive benefits.

It is not clear whether COVID long-haulers would be able to access SSDI. If you have questions about SSDI, including whether it is right for you, how to apply, and how to appeal a denial, contact Hawks Quindel to talk to an experienced SSDI attorney.

Don’t Wait to Get Help for Complications of Long COVID-19

Though the last year may have felt like a decade, COVID-19 and its impacts on health and the ability to work are still relatively new and unstudied. As such, clear answers can be difficult to find, especially when it comes to COVID long-haulers and how they fit in the scheme of protections and benefits for workers with disabilities. If you or someone you know faces long COVID and worries about working and paying the bills, the Hawks Quindel employment team can help you navigate the path ahead.

Lili Behm
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