Long COVID impacts 2 million people
As cases of Long COVID escalate, so have the questions around how employers should respond and where their responsibilities start and end.
A new study by the Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT) found that around a third of people who report they have coronavirus symptoms have at least one symptom that persists for at least 12 weeks.
The report said managing the long-term consequences is going to be a major challenge. The UK government has so far allocated £50m for research into Long COVID.
Long COVID is not classified as an occupational illness or disability at the moment, employers need to show they have taken the individual’s requirements into account. Employers should be willing to adjust location or hours of work for employees suffering with Long COVID.
The major problem businesses are facing is that Long COVID is so unpredictable and varies greatly from person to person. The new research from REACT confirms that a sizeable proportion of any business workforce that had COVID is likely to be struggling with these fluctuating symptoms for the foreseeable future.
Some employees will be on long-term sick leave, others may be able to work normally for periods and then suddenly find the condition strikes them down. Employers should manage employees with the illness actively, engaging with them on a regular basis, providing flexibility in hours of work and where possible, allowing Long COVID sufferers to work from home or adjust the type of tasks they undertake.
Line managers need to monitor the progress of symptoms and assess the state of mind of an employee with Long COVID. These factors can change so quickly, as it is an evolving condition.
It is believed that many of the symptoms of Long COVID are likely to meet the definition of a disability. If the symptoms qualify as such, employers will have a positive duty to consider what, if any, reasonable adjustments can be made to assist. Employers are used to dealing with long-term absences but Long COVID can be much more difficult to deal with as individuals can be fit for work one day and debilitated the next.
Employers will have to question whether Long COVID will have a substantial adverse impact on an employee’s ability to carry out their work. Every person’s case will differ and therefore everyone suffering from Long COVID should have adjustments made to their work that suits their new individual needs.
Symptoms can be any physical or mental impairment that has had a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
However, ultimately, an employment tribunal would have to decide on specific facts whether or not Long COVID qualifies. If tribunals were to take a similar approach to ME, employers should assume that anyone who is still suffering from the effects of coronavirus months after they were infected is likely to be able to demonstrate that it is long term and a disability.
If Long COVID qualifies as a disability, employers will have a positive duty to consider what, if any, reasonable adjustments can be made to assist, such as adjusting working hours or allowing individuals to continue working from home after lockdown.