Tips to stay safe when you return to in-person work
As states across the country begin to lift pandemic restrictions, some places of employment are calling their workers back into the office. If you are returning to in-person work it’s important to take steps to keep yourself as safe as possible.
The American College of Rheumatology COVID-19 Vaccine Clinical Guidance recommends that people with autoimmune and inflammatory rheumatic disease (which includes lupus) get vaccinated unless they have an allergy to an ingredient in the vaccine. Please talk with your doctor and create a plan to get vaccinated if you have not already done so. Your doctor can help you decide which vaccine is right for you and whether you will need to temporarily adjust your medications to increase the effectiveness of the vaccine.
If you can’t get the vaccine for any reason, talk to your doctor about what you can do to stay safe. When you leave your home, follow the CDC guidance for those who are unvaccinated.
It’s important to note that you are fully vaccinated two weeks after you have completed the vaccine dose. If you receive a one-dose vaccine you will be fully vaccinated two weeks after your shot. If you receive a two-dose vaccine you will be fully vaccinated two weeks after your second shot.
In most cases the side effects from the vaccine are not dangerous and will go away on their own within a short time. Talk to your manager about the possibility of taking some time off to rest and recover if you experience side effects. Please call your doctor if these side effects last for more than two days or if you have side effects that are more severe.
While the CDC has advised that fully vaccinated people may be able to resume most activities, it is important to remember that people with lupus are at higher risk for severe illness and that every person with lupus is different. Some people with lupus may not have a strong response to the vaccine and may not produce enough protective antibodies and other forms of immunity. Researchers are currently studying how people with lupus respond to the vaccine but there are no answers to this question yet.
It is important to continue to follow public health guidelines even after you are fully vaccinated. In addition, you and your doctor may decide that you need to take extra precautions based on your health status.
Commuting to Work
Before heading back into the office, coordinate with your manager or human resources on the possibility of adjusting your schedule to commute before or after peak travel times so that fewer people will be traveling with you. You may also want to consider discussing with your manager or human resources the possibility of working from home as much as possible, including after vaccination. If you have not spoken to your employer about lupus before there are some tips to help you have that conversation.
If you have to use public transportation, take necessary precautions to reduce exposure to the virus, such as following CDC guidance to continue wearing a mask, avoiding crowds and washing your hands often.
As an alternative, keep hand sanitizer or hand wipes with you at all times.
In the Office
It may take a couple of weeks to adjust to life back at the office, but there are a few things to keep in mind while you’re there.
Be sure to wash your hands frequently throughout the day.
Keep your work area clean with disinfectant wipes or other cleaners. Be mindful of how many people are in the common areas around breaks and limit your time in that space.
Wear a mask if you’re going into enclosed spaces, like an elevator or participating in an in-person meeting. If you feel uncomfortable, ask your manager to join meetings via phone call or video from a safe space.
As a person with lupus, here is a list of important resources that will help you advocate for yourself:
JAN offers ADA compliance assistance and practical strategies for individuals with disabilities during the pandemic. Strategies can help enable workers with disabilities to return to work, work at home, or access leave when other accommodations are not available.
The Office of Disability Employment offers resources for employees, employers, youth and policymakers.
PAF has created care resources for those who have been affected by COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, we have more information you may need to know about workplace accommodations.
Transitioning back to work can become stressful and can affect your mental health. Whether you’re a person with lupus or a caregiver, see available resources on how to manage stress and about mental health.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognizes that CDC guidelines for fully vaccinated people allows for these protected workers to resume many pre-pandemic behaviors and does not require them to wear masks when working indoors (there are some exceptions for transportation workers that are noted).
OSHA also recognizes that there will be some unvaccinated and at-risk people (recent transplant recipients, people on long-term steroid therapy, or those taking other immunosuppressant medications) who may be at risk when returning to work.
According to OSHA, “When an employer determines that [personal protective equipment] PPE is necessary to protect unvaccinated and otherwise at-risk workers, the employer must provide PPE in accordance with relevant mandatory OSHA standards and should consider providing PPE in accordance with other industry-specific guidance.”
OSHA makes recommendations to work places but recognizes that vaccine policies and protections can vary. It is important, for those at known or unknown risk of contracting COVID-19, to continue to wear face coverings, practice social distancing, and personal hygiene while at work.
According to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “Federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, so long as employers comply with the reasonable accommodation provisions of the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other EEO considerations.” This means that an employer can require employees to be vaccinated in order to come back to work. A person with lupus may be medically exempt from vaccination requirements if their health status does not support getting the vaccine.
OSHA also makes recommendations for employers to keep employees safe during this time.
- Maintaining good ventilation systems
- Providing PPE for employees
- Encourage vaccinations and provide time away from work if needed to get vaccinated
- Encourage those who are unvaccinated and those who are at higher risk to continue with safe social distancing and healthy behaviors to reduce risk
As a reminder, you and your doctor may decide that you need to take extra precautions based on your health status, so it's important to speak with your care team about what precautions you should take.
These guidelines may change when we know more about how COVID-19 and the vaccine continue to impact people with lupus. We are monitoring the science and guidance and will update this information as it changes.