July 21, 2022

EU-OSHA Summarizes Challenges of Managing Long COVID

Long COVID, one name for the range of long-term health effects that some people experience after being infected with the virus SARS-CoV-2, “presents a considerable challenge for employers,” according to a publication recently released by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA). Symptoms of long COVID can include fatigue, shortness of breath, difficulty with thinking or concentrating, dizziness, and depression and anxiety, among many other symptoms affecting the heart as well as the respiratory, neurological, and digestive systems, according to CDC. Post-COVID conditions like these can last for weeks, months, or years.

The authors of the EU-OSHA paper stress that workers with long COVID may have difficulty returning to their jobs as normal. Some workers will require a phased return to work over a period of months, which the authors note may require companies to reconsider or modify their policies regarding workers’ absences due to illness. Another concern relates to workers in safety-critical roles; the authors urge employers to ensure that workers’ long COVID symptoms do not put themselves, their coworkers, or customers at risk.

Two publications issued by EU-OSHA last year provide guidance for managers and workers on returning to work following COVID-19 infection or long COVID. According to EU-OSHA, managers play a key role in supporting employees returning to work. The guide for managers describes steps for arranging a phased return to the workplace and suggests possible modifications to duties or schedules that may help workers successfully return to work and stay on the job. EU-OSHA’s guide for workers is intended to help individuals recovering from acute COVID-19 or long COVID return to the workplace. The guide is designed both for workers who are currently employed and for those who are looking for work or starting a new job.

In the United States, long COVID can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act as of July 2021. The Occupational Health Branch of the California Department of Public Health has published a webpage on long COVID that links to educational tools for workers, videos of interviews with individuals affected by long COVID, and information regarding accommodations for employees with long COVID.

Research on post-COVID conditions and how many people experience long COVID is ongoing. Estimates published by CDC state that the proportion of people who experience post-COVID symptoms can vary. A report published in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in May found that approximately one in five adults aged 18–64 years have a health condition that might be attributable to their previous COVID-19 illness. The health conditions described in CDC’s report include kidney failure; blood clots and vascular issues; and neurological and mental health, musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and respiratory conditions.

Additional information about long COVID and post-COVID conditions can be found on CDC's website.