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Companies haven’t addressed long COVID in the workplace—and they’re paying the price

December 5, 2022, 12:43 PM UTC
Woman with face mask at office desk
Long COVID has cost Americans about $170 billion in lost wages.
Getty Images

Good morning—Amber here! Winter is fast-approaching, and with that comes cold and flu season on top of COVID-19. This period is even worse for those with long COVID, a debilitating chronic illness that has already cost between $170 to $230 billion in lost wages. Here’s what my colleague Paige McGlauflin has to say in an article out this morning about the business implications of long COVID and best practices for helping affected employees return to the workplace:

“If you’re an employer, and you have somebody on long-term sickness absence, that’s very costly,” Clare Rayner, a retired consultant occupational physician in England who developed long COVID, tells Fortune. “But what’s different with COVID is that we’ve got multiple people off sick for a long time, all at once. That’s never happened in my experience.”

But there are solutions. Suppose a long hauler struggles to stand upright for long periods but works on their feet for hours. Employers can vary the worker’s time standing and sitting and allow adequate breaks and changes in position. ”If you want to get this person back in, you’ve got to ease them in gradually and make adjustments,” Rayner says. The likelihood of a worker on medical leave returning to work drops by 50% by their twelfth week of absence. “You can’t leave it until someone’s 100% because they’ll never get back in.”

Despite the havoc long COVID and the pandemic wreaked on the workforce, there’s some good news: workforce disability participation increased in the last two years thanks to remote and hybrid work offerings. Those same flexible arrangements can help retain long haulers. 

Read the full story here.

Amber Burton
amber.burton@fortune.com
@amberbburton

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Some companies are cutting back on office space to avoid layoffs.

“From their point of view, this is one of the base expenses they have to deal with, and if in fact they can get rid of it in a way that keeps their own employees happier than before, then that seems to make sense all around,” Arpit Gupta, associate professor of finance at New York University, told Vox.

Around the Table

- Young jobseekers increasingly prioritize stability over anything else when looking for jobs. New York Times

- Over 33 million Americans don’t have paid sick days, and it’s widespread in part-time and low-wage jobs. CNN

- Some laid-off tech workers are taking their substantial severance packages and heading on vacation. Insider

- Bucking the trend, recent layoffs have hit white-collar workers hardest. Wall Street Journal

- Burnout and stress plague the creator economy, indicating the issue isn’t only limited to office workers. The Information

Watercooler

Everything you need to know from Fortune. 

Labor market, unrelenting. Employers are still hiring. The U.S. added 263,000 jobs and saw wages increase 5.1% in November, according to the Labor Department. —Associated Press

Zoom room. Employers are ditching open-floor plans for quiet spaces to recreate the peace of working from home. —Jane Thier

Be your boss. Many who've quit their jobs have started their own business because, despite the risks, being an entrepreneur seems more appealing than the drudgery of office life. —Bradley Jacobs

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