As we continue to progress through the Coronavirus (‘COVID’) pandemic, more workplaces must consider the long-term effects of contracting COVID (commonly referred to as long Covid) and the impact it can have on the individual’s current employment.
Long COVID generally refers to people continuing to experience symptoms for weeks after their infection, such as fatigue, short-term memory issues, dizziness, skin rashes and general long-term sickness. The NHS has a list of common symptoms on their website you can find here. However, COVID is still a relatively new illness so the full symptoms may still be unknown, but unfortunately from what is known, the symptoms may affect an individual’s ability to cope with normal day to day activities, including their employment.
Employers are encouraged to be aware of the symptoms of long COVID and how it may affect their workforce. For example, COVID can affect individuals differently, so it is important for Employers to keep communication as open as possible and avoid disregarding or making assumptions about symptoms or the nature of the condition or the extent of the impact on the individual’s health.
Frequent absences usually trigger sickness absence and capability procedures, which may help to monitor and ensure communication, however, it is important that Employers approach these concerns with understanding and with sensitivity.
Should an Employee need to take time off work due to long Covid-related sickness, ACAS encourages employers to be supportive by ensuring their work is covered appropriately, having regular conversations about how best to support the employee and to make occupational health referrals where necessary. Employers should also be aware that in certain instances they may need to consider implementing reasonable adjustments such as restricted duties and a phased return to work in order to assist.
As an employee who is affected by long COVID, it is important to ensure any health concerns which affect your ability to perform your duties are communicated to your GP/health advisor and, if required, your employer. Communication is key and follow-ups in writing are always helpful to prevent confusion. Your employer may have a right to refer you to occupational health and you may need to be open to considering short-term adjustments to your duties.
ACAS have recently provided updated guidance on long COVID (https://www.acas.org.uk/long-covid) as does the Society of Occupational Medicine (https://www.som.org.uk/coronavirus-resources.php) however, it is worth noting that it is currently unclear how ‘long COVID’ may influence common areas of dispute, such as disability discrimination and health & safety cases in the future. Therefore, employers are encouraged to keep communication lines open, health and safety policies updated, and complete regular workplace safety reviews to help avoid future litigation. Similarly, affected employees should try to be open and honest with their employer.
For tailored advice or guidance, please contact our employment team by emailing [email protected] or by calling 01635 508080.