Considerations for Faculty and Staff at Greater Risk of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a host of new features to our lives, and as we prepare for the Fall 2020 semester and beyond, planning is underway at WVU to address every aspect of our campus operations. A critical component of this planning is how we welcome our faculty and staff back to our campuses, especially our campus community members with underlying medical conditions, those with a greater risk for severe COVID-19 infection, and certain racial and ethnic minority groups. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), individuals with certain conditions or factors may have a higher risk for severe COVID-19 infection. Additionally, racial and ethnic minority groups are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Specific medical conditions that require job-related modifications due to the COVID-19 pandemic are being addressed as ADA Accommodations. Medical conditions/disabilities that have been identified by the CDC include:
· Asthma (moderate to severe)
· Chronic lung disease
· Serious heart conditions
· Chronic kidney disease being treated with dialysis
· Severe obesity
· Being immunocompromised
· Having HIV/AIDS
· *Certain factors do not meet the definition of a disability such as pregnancy, age and the caregiving of vulnerable family members. In these instances, employees will be referred to WVU Medical Management.
Currently, federal, state and local orders remain fluid, and information is fast paced. Therefore, it’s critical to develop a comprehensive (yet nimble) approach for addressing concerns that faculty and staff may have related to COVID-19 in the workplace. Possible modifications to pre-pandemic employee policies and practices may be necessary in the midst of this outbreak. Simply put, these new times call for new measures, and what may have been our standard of practice in early 2020 may now be obsolete. Support and guidance in welcoming back our vulnerable community members can be addressed by the universal practices we put in place, by utilizing ADA accommodations, by providing adjustments to the workplace and considering policy and procedure modifications when necessary.
Accommodation Measures for Faculty and Staff with Underlying Medical Conditions
Supervisors will likely receive requests for workplace accommodations from individuals with a greater risk of serious illness from COVID-19, or from employees with underlying medical conditions. As mentioned, adjustments to pre-pandemic policies and procedures may need to occur to ensure the safety and accommodation of vulnerable employees. According to the ADA Amendments Act, a person is eligible for workplace accommodations if they are a person with a “real” disability or have a “record of a disability.” The Job Accommodation Network, hosted at WVU has stated, “When an employer receives a request for an accommodation to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus, an employer must consider the request under the ADA and engage in the interactive process to provide reasonable accommodations.” The interactive process, a multi-disciplinary approach to addressing accommodation requests, typically involves the employee, the employer and/or supervisor and the ADA Coordinator to determine the availability and reasonability of the accommodation.
Supervisors should engage with WVU’s ADA Coordinator to develop practices to ensure that employees that are at higher risk for COVID-19 are provided consultation and services in compliance with the ADA. The ADA Coordinator will facilitate the interactive process and assist in determining the availability of reasonable accommodations. It’s important to keep in mind that accommodations are always highly individualized, on a case-by-case basis, and related to the individual’s work-related duties and the limitations of their medical condition. It may be necessary for the ADA Coordinator to obtain medical documentation related to the employee’s medical condition/disability to determine eligibility for reasonable accommodations.
Key Factors to Remember:
· The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) should be utilized to determine accommodations for individuals at a greater risk of serious illness from COVID-19, or for employees with underlying medical conditions.
· Supervisors and employees with disabilities and underlying medical conditions should consult WVU’s ADA Coordinator to engage in the interactive process of accommodation.
· Accommodations are highly individualized and are intended to remove barriers to productive employee labor and engagement while addressing the employee’s disability-related limitations.
· The interactive process of accommodation may require an employee to provide medical documentation that substantiates the disability or underlying medical condition.
· The employee must be able to perform the essential duties of their job.
· An accommodation is not reasonable if it presents an undue hardship, per the ADA.
A professor with heart disease who is 60 years old was accommodated with the option to teach online rather than on campus, for the fall semester.
A research assistant with Type II Diabetes was accommodated by limiting capacity in his lab and a PPE lab procedure was developed for the enclosed research area.
A front desk attendant with asthma was accommodated with a plexiglass barrier placed in front of his desk so that he can conduct high-volume work with public interaction. He used PPE and physical distancing guides where placed on the floor in front of the service desk.
A supervisor with COPD was accommodated by conducting supervision meetings on-line or by phone, from her office. Instead of her standard “open door” policy, individuals are asked to contact her by electronic means to address emerging supervision needs.
An inventory specialist with an immune deficiency was accommodated by working remotely to complete duties that could be achieved at home. This constituted approximately 60% of duties. For work tasks that required on-campus work, the employee would wear PPE, engage in physical distancing, and conduct work at non-peak hours.
Other Considerations for Employees at Risk
The CDC has identified that people 65 years and older and women who are pregnant are at higher risk for developing complications from coronavirus, however, age and pregnancy alone are not considered disabilities under the ADA. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) has remarked that “Employers receiving accommodation requests from employees in these higher risk groups will need to consider their responsibilities under state and local requirements, the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements.” Additionally, employees that are caring for family members with COVID-19 may be eligible for modifications, adjustments, or leave such as FMLA or other WVU related leave. These requests will be reviewed by WVU Medical Management.
The CDC has also identified that certain communities including people from ethnic and racial minority groups, people with disabilities, and people experiencing homelessness are at greater risk of severe infection. While not fully understood at this time, it is theorized that significant health disparities have contributed to this risk. For people from ethnic and racial minority groups, the CDC stated, “History shows that severe illness and death rates tend to be higher for racial and ethnic minority groups during public health emergencies. Addressing the needs of vulnerable populations in emergencies includes improving day-to-day life and harnessing the strengths of these groups. Shared faith, family, and cultural institutions are common sources of social support. These institutions can empower and encourage individuals and communities to take actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, care for those who become sick, and help community members cope with stress.”
To Request a Coronavirus Modification
Jill Hess, ADA Coordinator
Guidance and Resources
· Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
· Equal Employment Policy Commission (EEOC) Coronavirus Resources
· Job Accommodation Network: Accommodation and Compliance: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
· US Dept. of Labor-Office of Disability Employment Policy Coronavirus Information and Resources
· CDC: People Who Are at Higher Risk for Severe Illness
· Employees: How to Cope with Job Stress and Build Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic