Message from ACED partnership about episodic disabilities and work during COVID-19

covid virus under a microscope
Date posted

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised new concerns for people who are working with chronic episodic disabilities and may be more vulnerable to ill health than others during epidemics. An estimated 27 per cent of the working population has a chronic episodic disability. Yet, due to their intermittent, fluctuating and sometimes invisible nature, many episodic conditions go unnoticed in the workplace. For a multitude of reasons, people with episodic conditions often do not disclose their condition to their employers or co-workers. 

It is important for workplace parties to understand that people with episodic disabilities may be at greater risk if they are exposed to co-workers or the public in their work role. Currently, we don’t know if people with episodic disabilities are more susceptible to COVID-19. However, having COVID-19 when living with an episodic disability may result in an individual becoming more seriously ill. Some treatments also may suppress a person’s immune system and can increase the risk of infections or health complications. Employees with these conditions may need support and accommodations to ensure they can remain safe throughout the pandemic.

The following supports and accommodations, some already in place in most workplaces, can provide further protection for employees with episodic disabilities:

  • Discussing their potential fears and concerns
  • Developing and communicating plans to help people with episodic disabilities stay safe, in cooperation with union and health and safety representatives
  • Offering options to move to non-public-facing jobs
  • Offering options to work less-busy shifts or in less-busy departments
  • Shielding people with episodic conditions and providing greater distancing from other employees and customers
  • Providing greater ability to wash hands frequently
  • Providing additional personal protective equipment
  • Allowing work from home
  • Allowing people with episodic conditions to take a leave

We suggest employers communicate broadly about the accommodations they can offer, and keep the door open so employees feel comfortable talking about their needs and abilities. Privacy of employees asking for accommodation should be safeguarded, and those employees should be treated no differently than other employees in terms of job security and seniority. 

As part of our research, we will be addressing the COVID-19 experiences of individuals living with a range of episodic conditions. We will focus on workers’ decisions whether to disclose their health needs to their employers and their support experiences. We will also examine job precarity and how that relates to workers’ decisions about communicating and seeking support.

We hope the evidence and resources generated by the ACED partnership will help workers with episodic disabilities sustain productive employment under any circumstance, including a pandemic. To help in the meantime, we have put together a list of the COVID-19 resources and information available from the ACED partners to help people with episodic disabilities stay safe and healthy during these extraordinary times.

Finally, the ACED partnership would like to recognize and thank the workers across Canada—with or without episodic disabilities—who continue to provide essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic.