Managing long-covid in the workplace: A brief employer’s guide

Managing long-covid in the workplace: A brief employer’s guide

Last month, Plan B measures came to an end and self-isolation periods were shortened to five days, meaning employees might feel pressured to return to work sooner than they feel comfortable to due to workplace constraints because of staff shortages across the country.

Staff remaining unwell after their self-isolation period finishes

For large numbers of people who contract Covid-19. It is likely that they will have symptoms that remain for weeks, or even months after infection. 

Employees who suffer these longer-term effects may find that it impacts their ability to work, causing them to want to take further sickness absence in addition to any previous absence due to initially contracting Covid-19. While employers may be eager for employees to return due to a shortage of staff, pressure should not be placed on anyone to work if they are still sick, and the employee should be allowed to take sickness absence where it is needed.

Employers should also be mindful that the physical effects of long-Covid can fluctuate and talk to their team about the best way they can support their return to work.

The working from home alternative

The first question employers should ask employees who are still suffering from Covid-19 symptoms after their isolation ends is: How do they feel and how they can be supported in their return to work? Additionally, reasonable adjustments should be considered, such as flexible working, reduced hours, taking longer breaks or working from home where the remit of their role allows as well as a reduction in workload or the physical demands that may be associated with their role. 

Is long-Covid a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010?

The Equality Act 2010 offers protection, for those in employment, against discrimination and other prohibited conduct on the basis of a protected characteristic, the most relevant to Long-Covid being disability. 

Legally, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on an individual’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

In 2021, the Trade Union Congress called for Long-Covid to be recognised as a ‘deemed disability’ so that those suffering from it would be automatically protected, meaning there would be no need for an Employment Tribunal in the event of a claim being brought. However, this proposal has not been taken any further. 

Based on the symptoms of Long-Covid, and how varied they can be, it is entirely possible for these to amount to physical or mental impairment in employment law terms. 

There is no doubting that many have welcomed the easing of restrictions and have been enjoying the return to normality. However, employers need to continue to exercise caution, now more than ever, and approach prolonged periods of Covid-19 absence with an open mind.

Laura Kearsley
Laura Kearsley

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