The Office for National Statistics has reported that 1.2 million people in the UK are suffering from long Covid, prolonged symptoms that impact their ability to do day to day things. Long Covid is a term used for people who experience symptoms for 4 weeks or longer, but 44 per cent of responders said they had experienced symptoms for more than a year and 13 per cent for more than two years. 19 per cent of those who said they experienced long Covid said that their ability to do normal day to day activities had been ‘limited a lot’. Unsurprisingly, there is an increased incidence of long Covid in people who have underlying health conditions or disabilities.
Also in May, the Equality and Human Rights Commission said that people with long Covid may qualify for protection under the Equality Act 2010 if their condition meets the legal definition – that is, if it has a substantial and long-term effect on a person’s ability to do normal day to day activities. However, on current evidence, they did not recommend that long Covid is treated more generally as a disability. This seems sensible, given that long Covid symptoms vary dramatically between patients both in their severity and longevity. Some people will qualify for protection, but many will not.
That said, employers should try to support employees through any period of long Covid. Even for those who shake Covid off within 4 weeks, many spend several weeks feeling exhausted even after the active symptoms subside. Returning to work too early may be a false economy if it prolongs recovery. Even for employees who don’t meet the test for disability, a period of minor adjustment might benefit employees and help them to return to work sooner. Adjustments such as a period of home working, adjusted hours or even adjusted duties may aid recovery and actually reduce the overall period of absence. As the EHRC advice suggests, every case is different, so employers must be particularly sensitive to cases which are likely to meet the legal test for disability and ensure that reasonable adjustments are made in the same way as for other disabled employees.
Find out how we can help. Our partner, Jon Dunkley, heads the Wollens specialist Employment Department. Contact him today for an informal chat, without obligation on 01271 342268 or via email at [email protected].