To preview where this is leading, it’s a suggestion that covid-19 “high-risk” employees who are worried about returning to the workplace start submitting requests for reasonable accommodation. This can be as simple as a short email to a supervisor that requests _______ as a reasonable accommodation due to _______)
CDC recently broadened the list of those who qualify as high-risk for Covid-19.
The current list of those who are high risk of significant illness is:
- Chronic kidney disease
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
- Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher)
- Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
- Sickle cell disease
- Type 2 diabetes mellitus
In addition, those who might be high risk are:
- Asthma (moderate-to-severe)
- Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines
- Neurologic conditions, such as dementia
- Liver disease
- Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
- Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)
- Type 1 diabetes mellitus
Although it depends on an individual’s circumstances, many of the medical conditions in the top category already qualify as a disability, as well as some in the lower tier.
Some federal agencies have been generous in granting Weather and Safety Leave, some are being in generous in granting telework, and some are not being generous at all. If a high-risk employee is being pulled back to the office from telework, they should request Weather and Safety Leave (leave intended for those prevented from safely traveling to or from, or safely performing work, at an approved location). Assuming most of those will be denied, they should also request a reasonable accommodation.
The Agency is obligated to attempt to provide a reasonable accommodation for any disabled employee who requests it, as long as the request isn’t unduly burdensome. So is “high-risk status” for covid-19 equivalent to having a disability? Being 65 is not a disability, however the latest CDC characterization of high-risk categories has moved away from designating any specific age as high-risk. Instead it talks in generalities about advanced ages being more at risk.
At times, the EEOC guidance seems to expand the coverage of the Americans With Disabilities Act to apply to those in the high-risk category, regardless of whether they possess a “disability”, though how much is debatable. Management will be taking a gamble in denying requests for reasonable accommodation to high-risk employees, so those individuals should consider making reasonable accommodation requests to their Management.
The EEOC notes that it currently may be difficult for employees to obtain the traditional means of medical verification, and employers should accept alternatives to the traditional doctor’s note if it supplies the necessary information.
Items an employee might request as an accommodation relating to covid-19:
- erecting barriers between employees
- extending height of cubicle walls
- modifying work schedules to reduce contact with others
- Leave (likely WSL)
- Reassignment to a position that is vacant
- parking to enable employee to avoid public transit
- transparent face shields
- air purifier
- providing protective gear that would not normally be required for the employee’s job;
- taking protective measures such as creating additional space or installing barriers between an employee with a disability and others at the workplace;
- removing specific, non-essential functions of employees’ jobs;
- rearranging workspaces to maximize social distancing
- anything else the Local Public Health Authority is recommending