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HSTA offers guidance for teachers with health concerns during COVID-19

Protection and support options for educators who may be at higher risk for severe illness

The Hawaii State Teachers Association offers the following advice for members who may need additional protection and support due to health conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.

As COVID-19 is a new disease, there is limited information regarding risk factors and the research continues to evolve and change. These FAQs are provided as a reference and should not be considered exhaustive as each individual's situation may differ.

Q1: Who would qualify under the definition of a “serious underlying medical condition” and would be at “higher risk for severe illness from COVID”?

Based on the latest information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19 include:

  • Older adults: As you get older, your risk for severe illness from COVID-19 increases. For example, people in their 50s are at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 40s. Similarly, people in their 60s or 70s are, in general, at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 50s. The greatest risk for severe illness from COVID-19 is among those aged 85 or older.
  • People of any age with the following conditions are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19:
    • Chronic kidney disease
    • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
    • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
    • Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher)
    • Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
    • Sickle cell disease
    • Type 2 diabetes mellitus
  • In addition, the following conditions may place individuals at higher risk for complications from COVID-19:
    • Asthma (moderate-to-severe)
    • Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
    • Cystic fibrosis
    • Hypertension or high blood pressure
    • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines
    • Neurologic conditions, such as dementia
    • Liver disease
    • Pregnancy
    • Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
    • Smoking
    • Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)
    • Type 1 diabetes mellitus

— July 2, 2020

Q2: Who can receive reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? How do I request accommodations in response to COVID-19? 

An individual who may be at a higher risk for developing health complications associated with the coronavirus may request a reasonable accommodation to lower their individual risk of exposure to the coronavirus. When an employer receives the request, they must consider the request under the ADA and engage in the interactive process to provide reasonable accommodations.

To be eligible to receive workplace reasonable accommodations under the federal ADA, an individual must have an “actual” or a “record of” a disability, as defined by the ADA Amendments Act. The individual must also be able to show a connection between the impairment and specific need for accommodation.

If you believe you will need an accommodation at the time schools and worksites reopen, HSTA advises teachers to begin the request process now. See the information below on how to request an accommodation. — July 2, 2020

Q3: I am over 65. Do I automatically qualify for an ADA accommodation?

It depends. Every individual has a unique health situation. Initially, the CDC issued guidance that those over 65 were shown to be at higher risk for developing complications from coronavirus. The CDC has since amended its guidance to reflect the following, ”As you get older, your risk for severe illness from COVID-19 increases. For example, people in their 50s are at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 40s. Similarly, people in their 60s or 70s are, in general, at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 50s. The greatest risk for severe illness from COVID-19 is among those aged 85 or older.” Generally, an individual will not qualify to receive accommodations solely on the basis of age. An individual needs to engage in the interactive process with the employer to determine if their health condition and job responsibilities would warrant a need for accommodation. — July 2, 2020

Q4: I am pregnant. Do I automatically qualify for an ADA accommodation?

It depends. Every individual has a unique health situation. While pregnant women have been shown to be at higher risk for developing complications from coronavirus, generally they will not qualify to receive accommodations solely on the basis of being pregnant. An individual needs to engage in the interactive process with the employer to determine if their health condition and job responsibilities would warrant a need for accommodation. The CDC has information on how to protect yourself and your family if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or caring for young children. In addition, teachers should know that pregnancy is a protected class under federal and state law— July 2, 2020

Q5: I am a caregiver for someone with a disability. May I request reasonable accommodations under the ADA as a result of my caregiver status?

Caregivers of individuals with disabilities are not entitled to receive workplace reasonable accommodations under the federal ADA, but may be entitled to leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the recently passed federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

Please refer to the HIDOE’s memo related to FFCRA leave, and download the FFCRA COVID-19 emergency paid leave form here— May 27, 2020

Q6: Where can I find more information about requesting reasonable accommodations in the workplace, especially related to COVID-19?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) offers this guidance on Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the ADA. In the guidance, the EEOC notes that employees with disabilities may request reasonable accommodations in response to the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. For example, the guidance states that employees with disabilities that put them at high risk for complications may request telework as a reasonable accommodation to reduce their chances of infection during a pandemic.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) started as an initiative under President Barack Obama’s administration and is the leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues. This site is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Labor. COVID-19 specific advice can be found here.

Click here for more specific information about the interactive process— July 2, 2020

Requesting an ADA accommodation — HIDOE information and links*

Requests should be submitted to their respective complex area equity specialist. A list can be found on Page 39 of the HIDOE directory. Teachers may also contact ADA Specialist Krysti Sukita at (808) 745-4882.

*Charter teachers should contact their administrator regarding any ADA requests.

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