Nine in 10 workers who have had Covid-19 have been left with ongoing symptoms – many of whom say these have lasted longer than a year.
According to the TUC, which carried out a survey of more than 3,500 workers as part of its report into the impact Covid-19 has on daily working life, many workers suffering the long-term effects of the virus have experienced some form of disadvantage or discrimination due to their condition.
This has prompted the union body to reiterate a call for long Covid to be classified as a disability and for Covid-19 to be recognised as an occupational disease. This would give workers access to legal protections and compensation.
Its survey found that 95% believed they had long Covid and 29% had experienced symptoms that have lasted longer than a year.
Brain fog (72%), shortness of breath (70%), difficulty concentrating (62%) and memory problems (54%) were the most common symptoms reported.
The majority (79%) of the 3,557 people who responded were key workers and mainly worked in education or health and social care.
Workplace discrimination or disadvantage because of their health condition was reported by 52% of respondents. Examples of this included the impact of their symptoms being questioned by their employer (19%), questions about whether they had long Covid at all (13%) and being forced out of their job (5%).
Eighteen per cent claimed that the amount of sick leave they had had to take had triggered absence management protocols.
One person who contracted Covid-19 at work said: “I was still expected to work long hours, handle stressful situations in impossible timeframes, find and fill in forms (which I struggled to do because of cognitive issues), and spend hours on Zoom calls when I struggled to talk and breathe, resulting in extreme chest pain, shortness of breath, exhaustion and severe symptom relapses.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Many of the workers who have carried us through the pandemic are now living with debilitating symptoms of long Covid. And we’re beginning to hear troubling stories of a massive wave of discrimination against people with long Covid.
“It’s time to recognise this condition properly – and make sure workers who are living with long Covid get the support they need to do their jobs.
“Long Covid must be recognised as a disability. That would mean workers are protected by the Equality Act, and would have a right to get reasonable adjustments at work.
“And Covid-19 should be designated as an occupational disease. That would allow workers who contracted Covid-19 at work and are living with the consequences to claim the compensation they are due.”
O’Grady called on employers to make reasonable adjustments for workers with long Covid and complete risk assessments to ensure they are safe at work.
Lesley Macniven, chair of the Long Covid Employment Support Group, said that even those with “mild” Covid-19 can suffer daily with fluctuating symptoms.
“Patients need time to convalesce, then recuperate through a very gradual, flexible phased return to work, over months, to achieve a sustainable return,” said Macniven.
“Long Covid is disabling young, previously healthy workers. This key step is needed to take the effects of long Covid seriously, enable rehabilitation and protect dedicated workers from discrimination due to poor understanding of the condition.”