EEOC Clarifies When COVID-19 Condition May Be a “Disability” Under the ADA

The EEOC updated its COVID-19 Technical Assistance Guidance on December 14, 2021. The Guidance’s new Subpart N discusses when COVID-19 or a post-COVID condition may qualify as an ADA covered “disability” triggering the statute’s anti-discrimination and reasonable accommodation requirements. Key points include:

  • Not every COVID-19 related impairment constitutes a disability under the ADA, and the determination must be made on a case-by-case basis.
  • Like a person with any other medical condition, a person with a COVID-19 condition may have a “disability” under the ADA in one of three ways:
    1. The person has an “actual” disability: a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. This requires an individualized assessment of the effects of COVID-19 on the specific individual.
    2. The person has a “record of” a disability: a history or record of an actual disability; or
    3. The person is “regarded as” having a disability: the person is subject to an adverse action because of an actual or perceived impairment, unless the impairment is both transitory and minor.
  • Someone with COVID-19 who is asymptomatic or who has mild cold or flu-like symptoms that resolve in a matter of weeks is not substantially limited in a major life activity and thus does not have an “actual” disability under the ADA.
  • An individual with COVID-19 conditions that last or are expected to last for several months, such as ongoing neurological issues, breathing difficulties, heart palpitations, or gastrointestinal pains associated with “long COVID,” may be substantially limited in a major life activity and have an “actual” disability under the ADA. This requires an individualized assessment.
  • A person who has or had COVID-19 can have “record of” a disability if they have a history of symptoms that substantially limited one or more major life activities. Again, this requires an individualized assessment.
  • A person may be “regarded as” an individual with a disability under the ADA if they are subjected to an adverse employment action because they had non-minor symptoms of COVID-19 or minor symptoms that were expected to last more than six months.
  • Regardless of whether a person’s initial case of COVID-19 is itself an ADA covered “disability,” they may develop related health complications that qualify as disabilities under the ADA, such as heart inflammation, reduced brain function, or diabetes.
  • A person must establish they have “actual” or “record of” an ADA covered disability to be eligible for a reasonable accommodation from their employer, and the employer may ask for supporting medical documentation before granting any accommodation request.
  • Note that the EEOC’s COVID-19 Technical Assistance Guidance Subpart D confirms that an employer is not required to accommodate an employee without an ADA covered disability based on the disability-related needs of a family member or other person with whom they are associated.

The EEOC Technical Assistance guide includes additional details and examples. Determinations about whether an individual with a COVID-19 related condition has an ADA-covered disability or is entitled to a reasonable accommodation are fact-specific and must be made on a case-by-case basis. Contact your partners at Lake Effect for help with these complex situations.

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