At this time of year in cold climates, airborne illnesses (influenza, respiratory syncytial virus and COVID-19) persistently impact families and workplaces. Influenza is a well-known endemic. Endemic means persistent—It will not go away, and it won’t get much worse or better. Influenza has cyclical peaks and drops. On the other hand, measles is endemic as well but persistently low in the population. What is COVID? Experts don’t know yet, though COVID seems poised to persist cyclically and at elevated levels.

Three takeaways from the webcast From Pandemic to Endemic: Respiratory Illness and the Workforce are:

  • “Long COVID is COVID,” said Colin D. Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto. “The persistence of [the COVID-19] virus can be a few days if you clear it very quickly, particularly if you are vaccinated and boosted and in excellent health. It seems evident now that for some people . . . it looks like [the virus] might find little places to hide and continue to challenge the immune system, and that is a cause of one form of long COVID.” Furness also mentioned that “When we start to talk about it as a systemic virus or a vascular virus, it all becomes one thing.” The first key takeaway is that COVID-19 targets numerous places in the body, causing the potential for complications and disabling chronic illness in some people. Employees that are recovering from or living with long COVID complications have the right to be treated fairly in the workplace and may be protected against employment discrimination. Employers should review their handbooks to ensure they have an effective reporting policy for requesting reasonable accommodation.
  • “The major effect COVID has had on the workforce is unpredictable absences,” claimed Jennifer S. Abrams, attorney at Susanin, Widman & Brennan. Employers should review with their counsel any federal, state/provincial or local leave laws. Consider remote work and flexible schedules if those options are possible.
  • Improving indoor air quality (IAQ) can reduce the spread of airborne viruses. Amy Pressman, partner at DLA Piper in Vancouver, British Columbia, shared an overview of Canadian developments on indoor air quality and national policies in Belgium, France, New Zealand and South Korea as well as incentives in other countries.

Workplace Protections

United States and Canadian employment laws protect people with conditions, like COVID, that may require reasonable accommodations to perform their job.

In the U.S., the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination by private employers (with 15 or more employees) or state or local government employers against job applicants and employees with disabilities. . “State laws often mirror ADA but may be more protective of workers and apply to employers with less employees,” Abrams said. For compliance reminders on the employer’s duty to engage in the interactive process, check out this Long COVID and ADA blog.

In Canada, human rights legislation protects against discrimination and requires accommodation to the point of undue hardship, according to Pressman. Each province and federal government has its own human rights legislation, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of numerous grounds.

Workplace Indoor Air Quality

Ventilation (like HVAC systems and open windows) and air filtration (HEPA filters) are key to indoor air quality. View the webcast now for more recommendations on employer actions.

Resources

Indoor Air Quality for Workplaces [Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety]

Clean Air in Buildings Challenge [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency]

Roadmap to improve and ensure good indoor ventilation in the context of COVID-19 [World Health Organization]

Jenny Gartman, CEBS

Manager, Reference/Research Services at the International Foundation Favorite Foundation Member Service: Personalized Research Service Benefits Topics That Interest Her Most: Mental health and retirement security Personal Insight: Jenny likes spending time with family, knitting, reading memoirs and going for walks around the neighborhood.

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