How Managers Can Support Employees With Long COVID

People with long-haul COVID-19 experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches and dizziness for an average of 15 months after the onset of the illness, according to a recent study, published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology. This research, conducted by Northwestern University Steinberg School of Medicine’s Neuro COVID-19 Clinic, showed that even though none of the 52 study participants were hospitalized, they experienced symptoms many months later. Researchers estimate that long COVID may affect up to 30% of Americans or an estimated 24 million people in the U.S.

This startling statistic means we may see an increasing amount of people leaving the workforce due to COVID-related symptoms. If you have an employee who is experiencing symptoms of long COVID, there are things you can do to support them.

Encourage Them to Apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

It’s important to note here that long COVID is not a category of impairment on the Social Security Administration (SSA) listing of medical impairments for Social Security disability benefits. However, your employee may be eligible if COVID has created symptoms, clinical signs and laboratory findings that meet or equal an existing SSA listing.

The SSA has begun monitoring and tracking data on COVID-related claims. The agency recognizes these COVID-related conditions when considering awarding benefits:

  • Lung, heart, kidney, neurological and circulatory damage.
  • Worsening impact on pre-existing physical and mental impairments.
  • Respiratory, cognitive, circulatory and other chronic disorders resulting from infection.

Even if your employee’s symptoms don’t match the above exactly, they should apply for SSDI now. Former workers are finding there’s a backlog of SSDI claims causing significant delays in benefit approvals. And, as the SSA develops its procedures for evaluating COVID-related claims, it’s important that individuals take steps to file their case for SSDI benefits.

SSDI Benefits Lead To Return To Work Assistance

One important component of SSDI benefits that is vital for employers and employees is the Ticket to Work (TTW) program. TTW is the SSA’s incentive program designed to help people get back to work while protecting their SSDI benefits. It gives individuals a chance to test returning to the workforce to be sure they are healthy enough to perform work.

This federal program has only been in existence for about 23 years and is not well-known to most American workers. TTW can be instrumental in getting your employees back to the office at the right time and in the best way possible.

When your employee is ready to return, you can help by recommending they contact an Employment Network like Allsup Employment Services (AES) to help them adhere to the TTW rules and maximize its benefits. AES is a Social Security-authorized Employment Network that helps people get back to work while protecting their SSDI benefits through the TTW program. One significant benefit of TTW that AES can assist with is the Trial Work Period.

Trial Work Period

The Trial Work Period (TWP) is a TTW incentive to help people successfully reenter the workforce after dealing with serious illness. This means that while your employee receives SSDI, they can test their ability to work for nine months and still receive full SSDI benefit payments – no matter how much they earn on the job.

SSDI beneficiaries may be eligible for nine months of Trial Work while they explore long-term employment. The nine months do not have to be consecutive, but beneficiaries must report their earnings and meet SSA rules for disability during that time. Once the employee has completed their Trial Work months, consecutively or not, the TWP has ended. AES case managers can help with adhering to the TTW rules and assist with sending earnings statements to the SSA.

Other Ways AES Can Help

Additional assistance for former workers who are using the SSDI and TTW programs include:

  • Help understanding the TTW program. Case managers are experts in TTW and can ensure your employee gets maximum benefit from it.
  • Protection of their SSDI benefits. Your employee can return to work while still collecting full benefits.
  • Reinstating SSDI benefits when/if needed. If your employee has a relapse and needs to stop working, AES ensures their benefits are reinstated automatically and there’s no need to reapply.

COVID treatment is still evolving and there’s uncertainty about SSDI cases and what to expect from the SSA’s policy. Still, returning to work after a protracted illness like long COVID is possible. The SSA’s TTW program combined with the expertise of case managers, like those at AES, can ensure your employee’s health and benefits are protected as they return to work.

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