Updated guidance to help occupational health professionals, employers and line managers support employees with long Covid to return to work has been published by the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM).
The guidance, developed by a multi-disciplinary team including occupational health physicians, academics and psychiatrists, aims to help facilitate the return to work for employees who might find their symptoms difficult to manage.
Symptoms of post-Covid syndrome – often known as long-Covid – which might impede an employee’s return to work, include fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, and neurocognitive impairment.
Not only can these symptoms affect an individual’s ability to carry out their tasks, but they might also impede their travel to work, which is particularly pertinent now that government advice to work from home where possible has ended.
Recent research from the CIPD and Simplyhealth found that almost half of organisations have employees who have experienced long Covid in the past 12 months, with a quarter now including it among their main causes of long-term sickness absence.
Last month, the Office for National Statistics estimated that one in 50 people in the UK were suffering with persistent Covid symptoms.
Professor Ira Madan, academic dean at FOM, said: “Post-Covid syndrome is a challenging illness for healthcare professionals and employers to manage. This guidance provides practical steps aimed at supporting the worker back into employment.”
FOM’s guide for health professionals outlines the practical steps they can take and the questions they can ask to establish an individual’s current health; the symptoms of long Covid they may be experiencing; and how their work might be affected by their symptoms.
It says individuals should be encouraged to liaise with their employer about the adjustments they may need to return to work, such as flexible hours, home working or special equipment.
If both the patient and health professional agree that they may be fit to work with adjustments, the guidance advises how their fit note should be completed.
The guidance for managers and employers, which FOM has encouraged occupational health professionals to share in their organisations, reiterates the importance of returning to work for a person’s rehabilitation and serves as a reminder that an individual does not need to be 100% fit to return to work.
It gives organisations some practical steps to take, including the conversations managers should have with their employee about the challenges they might face, how these might be overcome, and examples of the adjustments that could be made.
Meanwhile, prime minister Boris Johnson has indicated that the legal requirement to self-isolate for people who test positive for Covid-19 could end a month early. Employment law experts have reminded organisations about their duty of care towards employees, and have urged them to conduct new risk assessments.