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Are We About To See A Surge Of COVID-19-Related Accommodation Requests?

The American Psychological Association (APA) issued a warning about the impact that stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice, the election cycle, and civil unrest is having on long-term physical and mental health in its October 2020 report, Stress in America™ 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis.

According to the APA, an inability to cope with the stress of the pandemic in a healthy way may be contributing to declining physical health, which could lead to chronic illness and more strain to the U.S. healthcare system.

The APA's most recent survey, conducted in late February 2021 by The Harris Poll, found that 42 percent of U.S. respondents gained more weight than they wanted since the start of the pandemic. They reported an average weight gain of 29 pounds and a median weight gain of 15 pounds. Ten percent said they gained more than 50 pounds.

In addition, 18 percent of respondents said they lost more weight than they wanted, with an average weight loss of 26 pounds and a median weight loss of 12 pounds.

Sixty-seven percent said they are sleeping either more or less than they want since the pandemic began, with approximately equal proportions reporting more and less sleep.

Among parents, 48 percent reported an increase in their stress levels. Among parents with children still learning remotely from home, 62 percent said their stress levels were up.

According to the survey, 23 percent of all respondents, and 52 percent of parents with elementary school children, said they drank more alcohol to cope with their stress during the pandemic.

The survey also found that 12 percent of all respondents, and 34 percent of essential workers, had sought mental health treatment from a professional. Furthermore, nine percent of all respondents, and 25 percent of essential workers, had been diagnosed with a mental health disorder since the beginning of the pandemic.

Gen Z adults were the most likely to report a decline in mental health, at 46 percent, followed by Gen Xers (33 percent); Millennials (31 percent); Boomers (28 percent); and older adults (nine percent).

In addition, 47 percent of Americans reported delaying or cancelling health care services because of the pandemic, and 53 percent said they have been less physically active than they wanted.

Finally, 57 percent of Black respondents felt concern about the future, while 51 percent of Asians, 50 percent of Hispanics, and 47 percent of whites said the same. "One year later, a new wave of pandemic health concerns" apa.org (Mar. 11, 2021).

Commentary

There will be new disabilities among employees stemming from declining health related to the stress of the pandemic.

Those who survive COVID-19 may be long-haulers – those for whom symptoms persist long after the initial, acute infection. In addition, many employees have experienced significant weight gain during the pandemic.

According to the National Institutes of Health, gaining 11 pounds increases a person’s risk of developing Type II diabetes mellitus and coronary heart disease. Gaining more than 24 pounds increases the risk of developing ischemic stroke. “One year later, a new wave of pandemic health concerns” www.apa.org (Mar. 11, 2021)

Employers should review their disability accommodation request process to make sure it works well for both remote employees and employees returning to the workplace, as well as new applicants.

Retrain all managers and human resources employees on managing requests for disability accommodation. Tell them that many employees may have developed new disabilities during the pandemic. Remind them to promptly communicate the requests to those in your organization who are authorized to manage reasonable accommodations.

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