More than two years after Georgia Linders first contracted Covid, her heart is still racing at random times.
She is often tired. She cannot digest certain foods.
Most days, she runs a fever, and once her temperature crosses a certain point, she says, her brain starts screaming.
These are the most commonly reported symptoms Long covid.
When he returned to work in the spring and summer of 2020, Linders really noticed problems with his brain. He had to be on phone calls throughout the day, coordinating with health clinics serving the military. It was a lot of multitasking and she excelled before Covid.
After covid, brain fog and fatigue slowed her down. In the fall of 2020, he was put on probation. After 30 days, she thought her performance had improved. She certainly felt busy.
“But my supervisor raised my productivity, which was a quarter of what my coworkers were doing,” she says.
It was depressing. Her symptoms worsened. She was given another 90-day probationary period, but decided to take medical leave. On June 2, 2021, Linders was terminated.
He filed a discrimination complaint with the government, but it was dismissed. She could have sued but didn’t make enough money to hire a lawyer.
Survey data suggests that millions of people are out of work due to prolonged covid
As the number of people with post-COVID symptoms continues to rise, researchers and the government are trying to figure out how big of an impact COVID is having on the U.S. workforce. Given the fragile state of the economy, this is a pressing question. For more than a year, employers have faced staffing issues, with jobs going unfilled month after month.
Now, millions of people may be sidelined from their jobs due to prolonged covid. Katie Bach, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, drew on survey data from the Census Bureau, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and the Lancet to come up with a conservative estimate: 4 million full-time equivalent workers. Long work due to covid.
“It’s a staggering number,” says Bach. “That’s 2.4% of the US working population.”
Prolonged covid may be a disability under federal law
The Biden administration has already taken some steps to protect workers and keep them on the job. Issuing guidance It clarifies that long covid is a disability and relevant laws apply. For example, under the Disability Act, employers are required to provide accommodations to workers with disabilities, and doing so imposes an undue burden.
Linders now thinks she should have asked after she returned to work. She was already working from home because of the pandemic, but she may have been given a lighter workload. Perhaps her supervisor stopped the disciplinary action.
“Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten sick because I wouldn’t have pushed myself to do things I knew I couldn’t do, but I tried and tried,” she says.
Dr. Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez, a professor of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, has seen Covid play out in a similar way in other patients.
“If someone has to go back 100% when they start feeling a little bit better, they’re going to crash and burn out faster,” he says.
Finding accommodation for prolonged Covid treatment can be complicated
The problem with coming up with long-term Covid treatment shelters is that there are so many unknowns. The duration and severity of symptoms varies greatly from person to person.
Gutierrez finds herself overwhelmed by questions on disability forms that ask how long a person can be out or how long their illness will last.
“It’s a new condition,” he says. “We don’t know.”
Accommodations in the workplace can include flexibility in one’s place of work, extended leave, or a new role in a different department. The goal is to get workers back on track, says Roberta Etcheverry, CEO of Diversity Management Group, a disability management consulting firm.
But with a prolonged Covid-19, it’s difficult to gauge whether an employee is actually on track to return.
“It’s not a sprain or a strain where someone turns their ankle and we know they’ll be at this point in x months,” he says. “It’s not—someone helps move a patient, they hurt their back, and they can’t do that kind of work anymore. They have to do something else.”
With long-term Covid, symptoms come and go, and new symptoms may appear.
The Department of Labor urges employers not to deny accommodations to employees who have not received an official long-term Covid diagnosis.
“Rather than determining whether an employee has a disability, your focus should be on the employee’s limitations and whether effective accommodations are available to perform essential work functions,” the Department of Labor says. A longer Covid guide for employers.
Accommodation may be difficult to find in some jobs
However, not all employers have the means to provide the type of accommodation an employee needs based on their symptoms.
Bilal Kizilbash believes he would have been fired long ago if he hadn’t been the boss of his own company.
“Most of my team doesn’t know that I work from bed most of the time,” says Kizilbash, a chronic pain sufferer who likens to a wasp sting.
As the CEO of a small business that makes health products, Kizilbash says he tries to be compassionate and ruthlessly efficient at the same time. Having an employee whose productivity is severely compromised can negatively impact the entire organization, he says.
In other industries, finding working accommodations, no matter how generous, can be challenging.
In South Florida, Karin Bishop, a new recruit to the Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue Team in 2020, contracted Covid during training. He came from a family of firefighters and it was his lifelong dream to follow suit. But prolonged covid left her with deep brain fog, fatigue, mild dizziness and other symptoms incompatible with fighting fires.
“If I can’t control my temperature, I can’t run into a burning building,” he says. “If I can’t control the high blood pressure, I can’t lift the patient or I’m going to pass out.”
Bishop was fired for not meeting performance-related probation standards. Covid advocates for long traffickers.
The Department of Labor jointly offers ideas on how to keep workers employed
Taryn Williams, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy, wants to hear from workers and employers. In mid-August, the Department of Labor conducts a Online chatSeeks input on policies that can help address workplace challenges caused by prolonged Covid-19.
“We have to respond,” Williams says. “We are considering how we can support these workers at a life-changing time.”
He says the government has faced a sudden spike in the number of people needing accommodation at work in the past. For example, a significant number of service members return from Iraq and Afghanistan with traumatic brain injuries. Williams says times like these have led to changes in disability policy in America
From his home in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Linders has contributed several comments to the Department of Labor’s online chat. Like Bishop, she spends a lot of time helping other Covid long haulers, including qualifying for Social Security disability insurance.
Her advocacy helps her feel like she’s contributing something to society, even if it’s not the life she wants.
“I don’t want to be disabled. I don’t want to take money from the government,” he says. “I’m 45. I’m going to work for at least another 20 years.”