Sedgwick and the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC), announced the release of “Long COVID: Assessing and Managing Workforce Impact.” This first-of-its-kind white paper is the product of months of information gathering and analysis by leading disability, clinical, research, insurance, government, and other workplace experts. It also includes the results of a 2022 DMEC Pulse Survey on current employer practices to accommodate and assist employees with long COVID.
DMEC, the Disability Management Employer Coalition is a non-profit organization that provides educational resources to employers in the areas of disability, absence, health, and productivity. The primary goal of DMEC is to assist employers in developing cost-saving programs, encouraging responsive market products, and returning employees to productive employment.
The two organizations convened a group of the nation’s employers, researchers, clinicians, and others to develop a pathway forward. The mission of the long COVID think tank was to share answers to difficult questions and recommend effective solutions and strategies to help employees with long COVID remain on the job, return to work in an effective and productive capacity, or access leave if they are unable to work.The think tank’s work encompassed:
– – Exploring the current and future problems long COVID presents to employers and employees
– – Developing a consensus definition for long COVID to guide employers’ actions
– – Identifying long COVID’s symptoms and phases (to support benefit design strategies)
– – Summarizing the most credible research on the prevalence and impact of long COVID
– – Assessing stay-at-work (SAW) and return-to-work (RTW) challenges
– – Highlighting emerging best practices and steps for employers and absence management professionals to consider
“This is the first comprehensive examination of how organizations are accommodating employees with long COVID,” said Bryon Bass, senior vice president, workforce absence and disability practice leader at Sedgwick. “The white paper outlines what employers can do to improve results for employees and their organizations and how to better prepare for viruses, mental and behavioral health challenges, and other developments that require effective employee accommodations.”
COVID-19 has claimed the lives of millions of people, disrupted economic activity, and imposed large financial costs on governments, employers, and other organizations. While the COVID-19 pandemic may be over, the endemic phase has just begun. This includes the millions of employees who have or will have long COVID, the difficult-to-diagnose and often debilitating illness that induces long-term symptoms and impedes work and productivity.
Long COVID – the term used to describe the disease when symptoms last beyond five weeks – has affected millions of U.S. workers. Many have experienced significant, long-term health-related changes that affect their jobs, families, and futures. And that, in turn, impacts a wide range of U.S. employers and industries.
“Long COVID has been described as ‘our next national health disaster’ and the ‘pandemic after the pandemic,” reports the Kaiser Family Foundation. While estimates vary on how many people in the U.S. suffer from long COVID, the General Accounting Office (GAO) puts the number at 23 million.
The conclusions of experts form Walmart, Johns Hopkins University, The Hartford, and other leading organizations convened by DMEC and Sedgwick are sobering. Long COVID is costly to employers and employees.
For example, Nomi Health who recently analyzed 20 million claims filed for COVID-19, long COVID, and diabetes found a 421% increase in in-patient hospital spending within the first six months following an initial COVID-19 diagnosis. There is also no question that long COVID cuts deeply into employee productivity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that one in four adults with long COVID reported significant limitations on day-to-day activities.
Employers’ efforts to accommodate employees with long COVID have revealed significant shortcomings in programs and processes used to accommodate all manner of disability and impaired work situations, including those caused by influenza and other viruses and mental and behavioral health challenges. According to the latest DMEC Pulse Survey, only 10% of respondents have an existing program to assist employees with long COVID. Most employers lack formal, best practice stay-at-work and return-to-work programs.
Long COVID: Assessing and Managing Workforce Impact includes lists of accommodations employers should consider as they help those with long COVID return to work and stay at work. The white paper recommends flexibility, creativity, and the need to educate managers about long COVID symptoms and accommodations.
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