In California, workers can seek workers’ compensation benefits while recovering from a COVID-19 infection that was contracted due to their job duties. For example, a nurse can most likely use workers’ comp if they work with coronavirus patients and are then diagnosed with the dangerous virus. But what happens if that same nurse later suffers from long COVID? Will workers’ compensation still apply? The current answer from the California Division of Workers’ Compensation is not very clear on the matter, but it seems that long COVID is not explicitly covered by workers’ compensation.
What is Long COVID?
As the medical community learns more about COVID-19, more information is brought to light about “long COVID” or a series of symptoms that can stay with patients for weeks, months, or potentially years. This syndrome appears to affect about 15% of all COVID patients, so it isn’t uncommon.
Long COVID symptoms can include:
- Constant fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pains
- Rapid pulse
- Lost sense of smell
- Joint pain
- Inability to concentrate
- Stomach issues
- Slurred speech
- And other issues
For some people, long COVID can last about 5 weeks with minor symptoms. But for many more, moderate or severe symptoms will last for at least 12 weeks. Studies are being conducted to understand if long COVID can last even longer or become permanent.
Long COVID & Workers’ Comp Coverage
It is clear that long COVID can cause a variety of troubling symptoms. But many people with it do not seek or require medical treatment. Because the syndrome is poorly understood, doctors cannot do too much other than tell their patients to monitor their long COVID symptoms, report any alarming changes, and rest as much as they can.
Workers’ compensation for COVID patients is designed to provide for their medical treatment costs. If long COVID symptoms aren’t incurring any further treatment costs, then it does not stand to say that the syndrome is covered by workers’ compensation. An insurance company would surely rebut any new claim for benefits if the claimant had long COVID but was undergoing no treatments for it.
Special Considerations for Long COVID Complications
In the summer of 2021, more than a year into the pandemic, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) did decide that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does apply to disabilities caused by long COVID or “long-haul COVID-19” as it was named then. Under this federal guidance, all employers must make reasonable accommodations for any worker who can return to work but with reduced or changed requirements due to long COVID symptoms. For example, a worker who once stood all day at a cashier can reasonably request a chair if long COVID has caused them to suffer from chronic shortness of breath.
Although this application of ADA protections to long COVID cases is beneficial in its own ways, it doesn’t directly address the question of workers’ compensation and long COVID. For the time being, it must be assumed that any long COVID workers’ comp case will be handled, weighed, and judged entirely on its own facts and merits. This uncertainty in how the state’s rules will apply underlines the importance of hiring a reputable workers’ compensation attorney whenever dealing with any COVID-related claim.