In it for the long haul part 2: COVID long haulers speak on work impact

In it for the long haul part 2: COVID-long haulers speak on work impact
Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 7:02 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - In late July, while honoring the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, President Biden revealed that those dealing with Post-Acute COVID-19 Syndrome or “Long Haul Covid,” will be included under the law.

That inclusion will open doors for the millions who are struggling to get back to their daily lives while dealing with Long Haul COVID-19.

Many of those Americans trying to find ways to return to work. For decades, company health packages have been a one size fits all situation. But, some business experts now say that when it comes to benefits, long-haulers may be the ones to force companies to make a major overhaul.

For the past 20 years, Tallahassee resident Tony Hartley has spent most of his days supervising repair operations at Marpan Recycling in Tallahassee.

“I’ve been working since I was 12 years old, so I don’t know how to do much other than get up and go to work and come home and take care of my family,” Tony said.

But in July 2020, a COVID-19 diagnosis turned Hartley’s life upside down.

“I couldn’t breathe, my oxygen levels were low and all I wanted to do was sleep,” Hartley said.

Hartley’s wife called an ambulance. He said his next memory was waking up days later in the COVID-19 unit at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.

“I don’t think I saw anyone get quite that severe and actually survive,” Dr. Shawn Akhavan, who treated Hartley, said.

But Hartley did survive. In all, he spent 44 intense days in the hospital.

“I want to go home. That was my whole ordeal from the time I went in there. I want to go home. I want to make it out of here,” Hartley said.

Hartley also wanted to get back to work, but his body wasn’t quite ready.

“To not be able to walk. Not be able to get out of bed, not be able to take care of yourself is, it’s a very humbling experience,” Hartley said.

Sitting still isn’t Hartley’s style.

During his recovery, Hartley’s boss, Kim Williams, would give him tasks based on his stamina.

“He’s quite helpful just knowing where things are and how to fix them or how to build them, so he could do a lot of that on the telephone, so he could work from home. Everyone else was working from home, why couldn’t Tony?” Williams said.

It’s this type of employer flexibility that Darren Brooks with FSU’s Center for HR Management says is imperative for companies who have long haul employees.

“We do have the technology, infrastructure that allows us to make certain accommodations that even just a decade ago, we couldn’t do,” Brooks said.

Within a month of leaving the hospital, Hartley returned to Marpan.

“As soon as he was where he could come back, he did. And Larry Lassiter and I bought him an oxygen, portable oxygen device, so he could walk a little big and get around easier,” Williams said.

Hartley bosses, who now affectionately call Tony, “Superman,” continue to provide accommodations so their “Man of Steel” can continue to heal.

A year later, Hartley is still dealing with memory and stamina issues. His story is just one example of how companies can help their employees dealing with Long Covid.

Brooks said it’s really going to be important for long haulers to talk with their bosses and human resources to see if they fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act or even the Family Medical Leave Act for some help.

Right now, long haulers are lobbying Congress, working to make FMLA a paid benefit.

Under the current law, if you’re eligible, it’s 12-weeks of unpaid work leave.

When the pandemic started, the government created the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act.”

This gave paid sick leave for those recovering or taking care of someone with COVID-19.

However, this benefit expired at the end of 2020. In April 2021, President Biden unveiled his “American Families Plan.” The plan does include working towards paid parental, family and sick leave. That same day, the Biden Administration also unveiled guidance and resources for those dealing with Long COVID.

The links to these resources are as follows:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Civil Rights Office

U.S. Department of Justice

U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Department of Labor

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