A quarter of employers are facing long Covid absence issues, as the number of people testing positive for the virus increases.
According to HR and health and safety support firm WorkNest, a vast proportion of the workforce is still suffering with lingering coronavirus symptoms, which can include brain fog, shortness of breath and fatigue, long after they have been infected.
To support them, a third of the 409 organisations surveyed are providing flexibility with working hours or work location, while 21% are offering workers with long Covid additional rest breaks.
There has recently been a spike in Covid-19 infections. In the week to 17 September 2022, the latest data available, one in 65 people in England had the virus, and increase of 1.57%, rising to one in 50 in Wales and one in 45 in Scotland. One in 80 people tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland in the same week.
WorkNest said employers must tread carefully when dealing with employees with long Covid, as it may be considered a disability – a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 – depending on their symptoms and the effect they have on their ability to work.
Long Covid absence
An long Covid employment tribunal recently found that a caretaker’s symptoms, which included headaches and fatigue, were so severe that it impacted on his daily life, meeting the the threshold for disability.
However, the Employment and Human Rights Commission has said that not all cases of long Covid will amount to a disability, and that it will be up to the courts to decide this on a case-by-case basis.
Employment solicitor Kirstie Beattie said: “There is increasing awareness of long Covid as a medical condition, its debilitating impact on people’s lives, and the approach employment tribunals will take when dealing with long Covid-related cases. Consequently, organisations need to understand how to support employees with long Covid.
“If someone raises concerns regarding how long Covid impacts them at work or as part of a return-to-work discussion, their employer must explore their current symptoms and evaluate how this may affect them at work. For example, they may find certain aspects of their job difficult to do and, therefore, may require adjustments on a temporary or permanent basis.”
She said that organisations should identify what reasonable adjustments may be necessary through discussions with the employee or via information shared on fit notes issued by their GP.