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E-Alert: EEOC Issues New Guidance to Clarify When Covid-19 May Be a Disability

On December 14, 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its COVID-19 technical assistance to clarify when COVID-19 may be considered a disability under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act. The new guidance provides 14 new questions and answers that relate to the definition of disability in relation to employment discrimination.

The new guidance clarifies circumstances where COVID-19 may or may not cause effects sufficient to meet the definition of “actual” or “record of” a disability. Other topics covered in this new guidance include disabilities arising from conditions that were caused or worsened by COVID-19 and the ADA’s “regarded as” definition of disability with respect to COVID-19. Other key topics covered include:

  • An applicant’s or employee’s COVID-19 may cause impairments that are themselves disabilities under the ADA, regardless of whether the initial case of COVID-19 itself constituted an actual disability.

  • Applicants or employees with disabilities are not automatically entitled to reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Instead, employers should engage in the interactive process to determine if a reasonable accommodation is required and whether such accommodation is an undue hardship on the employer.

  • An applicant or employee whose COVID-19 results in mild symptoms that resolve in a few weeks, with no reoccurring issues, will not have a disability within the meaning of the ADA that could make them eligible to receive a reasonable accommodation.

  • An employer may violate the ADA if it relies on stereotypes or myths regarding a condition that prevents an employee’s return to work when the employee is no longer infectious.

Earlier this year the DOJ/HHS issued guidance that focused solely on “long COVID” as a disability under Title II and III of the ADA. As mentioned above, this new EEOC technical assistance focuses more broadly on COVID-19 in the context of Title I of the ADA and section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, which cover employment. If you have any questions regarding this new guidance or how to address an employee’s request for an accommodation under the ADA, please contact one of our labor and employment attorneys at 501-371-9999.

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