Are temporary injuries or ailments covered by disability laws?
It depends. Temporary injuries or ailments that have a long-term impact may be covered by disability laws. In addition, temporary injuries that are severe may be covered by disability laws even if they do not have a long-term impact. Temporary conditions that re-occur regularly may also be covered by disability laws.
Temporary injuries or conditions that have no long-term impact and are not severe are not covered by disability laws.
Which disability laws cover temporary injuries or conditions?
The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) can both cover temporary injuries. However, the FEHA is broader than the ADA, and individuals with temporary injuries may qualify for protection under the FEHA but not under the ADA. More info here.
What are examples of temporary injuries or disabilities?
Examples of temporary injuries or disabilities that are covered by disability laws include:
- Back injury with long-term effects
- Broken bones or torn tendons that make it difficult to move
- Disabling conditions associated with pregnancy, including high-risk pregnancy with potential long-term impacts
- Sleeplessness resulting from a previously diagnosed disability such as PTSD or anxiety
- Severe illness such as polio or a very severe flu
- Hypertension and high blood pressure with potential long-term impacts
- Panic attacks that are either severe, frequent, or a combination of both
Examples of temporary injuries or disabilities that are likely not covered include:
- Minor cuts, sprains, muscle aches, soreness, bruises or abrasions
- Non-migraine headaches
- Minor or nonchronic stomach issues
- Pregnancy that does not have any related disabilities and is not high-risk
- Common cold or seasonal flu that is not very severe
- Hospitalization for minor elective surgery, generally lasting no more than 3 days
- Preventative treatment for a nondisabling condition
- Stress triggered by a personality conflict with a particular supervisor, when reassignment to another supervisor would reduce the stress
I had a really bad case of COVID which lasted for 2 weeks, but then I recovered and am experiencing no long term symptoms. Is this a covered disability?
COVID-19 can be, but is not always, a disability. For example, people who test positive for COVID but have no symptoms and people with mild COVID symptoms will not be covered by disability laws. If your illness is more similar to the common cold or a seasonal flu that is not very severe, it is likely not covered.
Individuals who experience severe impairments from COVID-19 may be covered under the FEHA.
I still have lasting effects from COVID and still have problems breathing. Am I covered by disability laws?
It depends. “Long COVID,”and/ or COVID-19 symptoms that last or newly appear for months after being infected, can be, but are not always, covered by disability laws.
Examples of long COVID symptoms covered by disability laws include:
- Lung damage that causes shortness of breath and fatigue that limits your ability to breath
- Stomach pain, vomiting, and nausea that has lingered for months
- Memory lapses and “brain fog” that limits your ability to think or concentrate
More on long COVID and when it is a covered disability can be found on the ADA website.
Am I entitled to a reasonable accommodation for a temporary injury?
Individuals with temporary injuries that are considered disabilities are entitled to the same protections, such as reasonable accommodation, as any other person with a disability.
More on reasonable accommodations can be found here.
I was temporarily injured while at work. What rights do I have?
Workers’ compensation provides benefits to workers who are injured on the job or who have an illness, disease, or disability caused or made worse by workplace conditions.
If I have a temporary condition, am I eligible for state disability insurance?
With a few exceptions, almost all California workers are covered by State Disability Insurance (SDI). To receive SDI benefits, you must have a condition that stops you from performing your usual work for more than one week, and be under the ongoing care of a licensed health care provider or authorized religious practitioner. You must also apply promptly, have been working or looking for work when the disability began, and have enough earnings from a previous job. [cross referenceSDI factsheet].
I have COVID-19 and cannot work. What can I do to receive income while I’m not working?
COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave (COVID-19 SPSL) provides California employees who work for employers with 25 or more employees with 2 weeks of paid sick leave when they cannot work for reasons related to COVID-19. If you do not qualify for COVID-19 SPSL, you are still entitled to use Paid Sick Days if you are missing work because of illness. You may also be eligible for State Disability Insurance to replace some of the income you lose while you are not working.
More about supplemental income during COVID-19 can be found on the COVID-19 FAQ.
This Fact Sheet is intended to provide accurate, general information regarding legal rights relating to employment in California. Yet because laws and legal procedures are subject to frequent change and differing interpretations, Legal Aid at Work cannot ensure the information in this Fact Sheet is current nor be responsible for any use to which it is put. Do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney or the appropriate agency about your rights in your particular situation.