How to Support Employees With Long or Medium COVID

Follow these tips for offering flexibility to workers with long and medium COVID.

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How to Support Employees with Long COVID

Here's what you need to know:

  • There’s no hard and fast rule about what qualifies as long or medium COVID
  • Keep lines of communication open
  • Focus on flexibility with paid time off policies
  • Reconsider your benefits package and paid leave policies

By now we’ve all heard of long COVID-19 — ongoing health problems that can last for weeks or months after the initial infection. But what about medium COVID? Medium COVID is what you might guess it is — persistent health issues that last after being infected with COVID but skew towards the weeks rather than months side.

As we learn more about the long- and medium-term impacts of COVID, the question of how to support employees who are experiencing them arises. The United States Government Accountability Office estimates that anywhere between 7.7 and 23 million Americans have developed long COVID. Whether they’ve disclosed it to you or not, chances are at least someone at your business has (or will have) medium COVID or long COVID at some point.

What can companies do to support workers with long or medium COVID? Read on to find out.

Educate yourself and your fellow leaders on long or medium COVID

Information is still coming in about long and medium COVID. As with everything related to the pandemic, it’s a process of learning as you go. While there are many different kinds of symptoms — from fatigue to loss of smell — that fall under the long COVID umbrella, there’s no hard and fast rule about what qualifies as long or medium COVID.

There are a handful of defined symptoms that do have a more direct relationship to a person’s ability to work, though. These include:

  • Lingering brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Shortness of breath or dizziness
  • Worsening symptoms after physical, mental, and emotional exertion

While this list is far from exhaustive, it gives you an idea of the numerous things that can impact the ability of someone with long COVID to do their work like they used to. Once you have a sense of these general symptoms, you’re better able to understand and accommodate the new needs of your employee.

For example, someone whose symptoms get worse after they exert themselves might need to do work in chunks with periods of rest in between rather than work a full 8 hours straight.

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Keep communication open with workers with long or medium COVID

The key thing to understand about long COVID and medium COVID is that the symptoms are different for everyone. It’s always best to trust your employees as much as you can. Even if the symptoms seem like a bit of a stretch to you, if accommodating their new needs isn’t difficult, why not do it?

Try to avoid asking for a doctor’s note or any other type of verification if possible. Doing so communicates that you don’t trust your employee or their understanding of their body.

Further, rather than pry into an employee’s medical status or condition, a better way to go about learning about your employees’ needs is by ensuring that there are open lines of communication. Ideally, an employee will feel comfortable coming to you or their manager and initiating the conversation themselves. Then the conversation becomes focused on what the employee needs to be successful at work with their new condition.

Focus on flexibility for employees with long or medium COVID

Perhaps the best thing you can do for employees with long or medium COVID symptoms is to be flexible. Whether that’s flexible working hours or continuing to allow employees to work from home, the more you can let work fit around the new lives of your employees, the better.

Perhaps the best thing you can do for employees with long or medium COVID symptoms is to be flexible.

This is especially true when it comes to paid time off (PTO) policies. Rather than designating a certain number of days for sick days and a certain number for vacation days, why not just pool them all together into one flexible PTO pot? That way employees can use their days off as they need, whether it’s for a doctor’s appointment or simply a rest day after a busy couple of days at work.

Reconsider your benefits package and paid leave policies

COVID has changed the working world forever. Nothing is going to be the same as it was before the pandemic hit, so why should your benefits and PTO policies stay stagnant? Much like reconfiguring paid time off into one flexible pot, you can reevaluate how you approach benefits as a whole — especially paid leave.

Consider relaxing the documentation and other qualifying processes for paid leave. If you can, manage employee benefits to extend paid time off to part-time and seasonal employees, too — they’re not exempt from long COVID. On top of that, consider adding telehealth and mental health services to your benefits roster if you haven’t already.

The bottom line for accommodating employees with long and medium COVID is this: Do your best to meet them where they are. Within reason, give them what they need to be successful. Not only is it the right thing to do, but chances are you’ll find that your employees’ loyalty might just solidify as a result.

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