Long Covid and what employers need to know

For many people who contracted Covid-19 the effects of the virus leave in a matter of weeks, for some however, the effects are much more long lasting and can have a seriously detrimental impact to health and wellbeing.

As the lasting effects of this virus are still under investigation, there remains a grey area around whether Long Covid is classed as a disability or not. I’ve certainly had clients asking around this and I’m sure more and more people are asking this as people suffer long term effects from COVID.

More guidance is expected soon on this, as a recent preliminary hearing of a tribunal in Scotland ruled an employee who suffers long covid symptoms as disabled under the Equality Act 2010, and as a result, a claim could be brought against the former employer under a disability discrimination claim. This is bound to pave the way for further claims.

So, what do you (as an employer) need to know regarding managing employees with long Covid?

  • We know Covid can affect us all differently. We know people get varying levels of symptoms and aftereffects. Don’t sweep everyone into the same ‘box’ (IE; assuming everyone will have the same symptoms and/or recovery). Keep open and ongoing conversations going with employees, especially those off long term.
  • Consult Occupational Health and arrange assessments of employees who have long term illnesses. Using these reports can help clarify the symptoms and any prognosis (long or short term) and can also help you as an employer in terms of helping individuals back to work or ascertaining if they might never return.
  • Approach each case with caution, there may be no determination on the illness being given the disability status (helpful I know!).
  • Consider and discuss any adjustments to the role that can be made, explore alternative roles or tasks both long and short term.
  • Treat each case confidentially and with sensitivity. It’s a developing illness that we are still discovering and learning about and like many things in HR, there’s no one size fits all!
  • If an individual is no longer capable of fulfilling the role they were employed to do and an alternative role and/or any further adjustments cannot be made, and the prognosis is that they will not recover in any immediate future,  take legal advice on potential next steps.

Communication and empathy will be key to managing your employees with long COVID. Emotions, anxiety and stress levels are likely to be high in these cases, so act with integrity, care and compassion alongside having an operational/business cap on – all within the skills of us HR folk!