What employers need to know about Long Covid
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), as at 2 May 2021 there were an estimated 1 million people in the UK who were experiencing self-reported symptoms of Long Covid. Whilst this is only an estimation, there is also evidence to suggest that this figure will continue to rise over coming months as we continue to navigate our way through the Covid-19 pandemic.
What is Long Covid?
On the face of it, Long Covid is a general reference that covers ongoing symptoms following the contraction of Covid-19. Not everyone who contracts Covid-19 will experience ongoing symptoms post-infection; the recovery from Covid-19 is different for everybody and the prevalence of ongoing symptoms does not appear to be linked to the severity of any initial infection. People who had mild symptoms at the time of infection can experience long-term ongoing symptoms, and vice versa.
What does the NHS recognise as symptoms of Long Covid?
The NHS recognises symptoms of Long Covid as including:
- Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or tightness
- Problems with memory and concentration (commonly known as “brain fog”)
- Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- Heart palpitations
- Pins and needles
- Joint pain
- Depression and anxiety
- Tinnitus, earaches
- Feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
- A high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
Of the 1million people who had self-reported Long Covid symptoms at 2 May 2021, 650,000 of those people said their symptoms were adversely affecting their day-to-day activities, with 192,000 of them reporting that their ability to undertake their day-to-day activities had been “limited a lot”.
Fatigue was the most common symptom reported (547,000 people), followed by shortness of breath (405,000), muscle ache (313,000) and difficulty concentrating (or so-called “Brain Fog”) (285,000). Self-reported Long Covid was most common in people aged 35 to 69, women, and those living with an existing disability or health condition.
How should employers manage employees with Long Covid?
Unfortunately, because Long Covid is a new and developing phenomenon, little is known about why certain individuals are affected and the reasons for the extreme differences in the ways in which the condition presents. Medical and scientific knowledge about the condition is in its infancy, which means that advice and guidance about the best ways for employers to manage employees who suffer with Long Covid is also limited.
However, there has been a steady rise in the number of employees who have been absent from work due to the effects of Long Covid which, in itself, presents issues for employers. However, as things stand, Long Covid is also likely to be classed as a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 – meaning that the stakes are even higher.
As an employer, you are subject to strict legislative provisions when it comes to the management of attendance or performance issues relating to an employee’s disability, and you will need to be very mindful of your statutory obligation to consider making reasonable adjustments for employees who are found to be suffering from Long Covid.
What do employers need to think about when managing Long Covid?
Because of the emerging science and lack of definitive understanding about Long Covid, decisions about reasonable adjustments may actually be very difficult. Although we have no precedent to rely on (because Long Covid is a completely new impairment), it is likely that Employment Tribunals will consider taking a sympathetic approach to employees who have been dismissed on grounds of absence related to Long Covid.
This means that employers need to consider being flexible with employees who are suffering from Long Covid and explore whether allowing additional time for recovery is appropriate, and legal advice and advice from occupational health specialists will certainly be required in most cases.
In managing Long Covid, as well as obtaining specialist advice, employers will also need to continue to follow best-practice ill-health capability processes and should continue to follow their internal absence management and performance policies and ensure that they carry out a full investigation into an employee’s health where it has become compromised by Long Covid.
We have prepared a full White Paper regarding the growing impact of Long Covid in the workplace which explores the issue further and highlights the key issues which employers need to be aware of at this time. You can access this by visiting the Whitepaper section on this website under our News & Resources section
If you would like to discuss the issue of Long Covid in the workplace please contact a member of the Employment Team on 01274 864999.