Returning to Work After Recovering From COVID-19: A Guide

The above picture is of the COVID-19 virus.

Returning to Work After Recovering From COVID-19: A Guide

Working in the midst of a global pandemic is a terrifying prospect, especially in the United States. In the early days, there was rampant confusion from the top down over which regulations to follow and which to discard. This, compounded by pressure to re-open the economy, has lead to well over 400,000 deaths.

Even if you were one of the people healthy or lucky enough to escape the mortality rate, you may still have a long road ahead of you.

Recovering from COVID-19 is no small feat, especially if your case required hospitalization. However, if you've been cleared by your doctors to return to work after battling against the coronavirus, our guide will show you how to approach the situation.

First, Acknowledge a Difficult Truth

Recovering from COVID-19 is difficult. Even more so is accepting the fact that it may be a very long time before you return to your former definition of "normal". Many people hospitalized with severe cases of COVID-19 faced long-lasting health complications. These complications included respiratory difficulties, neurological damage, infections and damage to the heart, kidneys, and liver, and mental health complications such as PTSD.

These long-term complications and consequences can last for months or even years after the infection. In the case of PTSD, the effects may well be life-long. Acknowledging this truth is your first step towards healing and returning to work on your terms.

Second, Be Gentle With Yourself

If you can't do everything exactly as you did it before, don't beat yourself up over it. You've survived a physically, mentally, and emotionally trying ordeal.

If you're fortunate enough to have an accommodating workplace, don't pressure yourself to get back out there right away. In an ideal world, your bosses would understand that you may need special accommodations to make your return to work a successful one. On that subject...

Third, Know What Accommodations to Ask For

While recovering from COVID-19, finding ways to ask your employer for proper accommodations is crucial. It can be hard to know what you can reasonably ask for, so we've compiled some examples based on common complications below:

If You're Immunocompromised...

If recovering from COVID-19 has left your immune system on the rocks, and you don't think it's wise to return to in-person office work, ask if there is any way you can work from home. Employees who work at a desk job, even one deemed 'essential', may be able to find ways to do their job remotely on a temporary basis.

However, if your work isn't something that you can do from home, you may request working a more solitary position so that you don't risk exposure to too many people. Asking to work in the stockroom or handle cleaning duties of a retail establishment may help. 

If You Have Respiratory Issues or Muscle Aches...

This proves more of an issue for physical laborers, like distribution center employees, warehouse staff, and processing plant workers. You may have to request shorter shifts or additional breaks to accommodate your body's increased levels of fatigue. Alternatively, if your job has you standing for most of the day, you may request a place to sit down or otherwise rest, so you can get off your feet for a few minutes.

If You Have PTSD or Anxiety...

Returning to work after recovering from COVID-19 can be a scary experience. Doubly so when you don't know how much work to expect in your first few days. If your employer will allow it, requesting light duty or assistance handling your workload can help mitigate the stress.

You should also try your best to recognize the warning signs of panic attacks and of your triggers. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, request a moment to step outside or to the back so that you can compose yourself. Take as deep a breath as you can, then conduct grounding exercises or do what helps you decompress.

Fourth, Be Firm With Your Employer

Sadly, even when accommodations are asked for and required by law, requests for them go unheard. This goes double if your job before COVID-19 infected you was one of the millions of underpaid, overworked "essential" positions.

If your employer is unwilling to work with you, don't be afraid to be firm with them. When they refuse to allow you your full two weeks' leave, don't compensate you for it, or don't offer reasonable accommodations for your recovery, they are breaking the law.

You are more than entitled to stand up against exploitation and public health violations when you see them. However, we should warn you that if you take this course of action...

Fifth, Prepare for Fallout

Many employers don't appreciate being told how they can and can't run their business. Despite retaliation officially being illegal, they can find other ways to terminate your employment. It would be wise to have a backup job lined up with compliant, accommodating employers, just in case. 

If you or your family can afford it, hiring a lawyer versed in disability law or employment law might also help defend you. Many employers suddenly become quite eager to accommodate you when the mere threat of lawyers gets brought into the picture.

Recovering from COVID-19 Is the Beginning, Not the End

While we all wish that recovering from COVID-19 would be the end of a taxing journey, for many, it is only the beginning. 

First, you must recognize your needs and practice self-compassion. Then, research what accommodations to request, remain firm, and know your rights and options. If you do these things, you'll make it out through the other side of this awful situation.

If you or someone else you know has become disabled due to COVID-19 and are now searching for new employment, we at Disabled Person are more than happy to help. Visit our job board or build a resume with us today to see what we can do for you.