May 18, 2021

Employers: Dealing with Long Covid

Employers have had to navigate multiple challenges throughout the past 15 months due to the Coronavirus pandemic. As many employees are now returning to work, Employment Law specialist David Dixey discusses the factors employers need to consider in relation to long covid.

What is Long Covid?

The term “Long Covid” is used to describe various symptoms experienced by some people for weeks or months after the initial coronavirus infection has subsided. This is obviously a relatively new and less than fully understood illness and affects people in many different ways. Employers need to be aware and to respond appropriately in accordance with the law and best practice.

NHS advice states that Long Covid symptoms can include:

  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Problems with memory or concentration (“brain fog”)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Pins and needles
  • Joint pain
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Tinnitus / earaches
  • Nausea, diarrhoea and stomach aches
  • High temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat and changes to sense of taste or smell
  • Rashes

Actual diagnosis of the condition may therefore be difficult, but where such symptoms are present employers should adopt the usual rules for sickness absence and sick pay.

Employers obligations

Where an employee wishes to return to work, but there are concerns about continuing symptoms, or their ability to fully perform employment duties, an employer is advised to consider the following:

  1. Arranging and offering occupational health assessments (only required where there is genuine uncertainty regarding an employee’s ability to perform their work).
  2. Looking into reasonable adjustments; this might involve varying hours or adapting physical workspaces etc.
  3. Whether the symptoms of Long Covid may point to the employee suffering from a legally defined disability. Employers should consider this issue and take steps to avoid discriminating on grounds of disability, or indeed any other protected characteristic.
  4. Discuss flexible working as an option, as well as a phased return to work. An employee may wish to consider working part time (obviously receiving less pay) rather than spend the time entirely on sick leave. What is suitable will depend upon the facts of each individual case. These arrangements should be discussed, and agreement reached where possible; they will usually be described as temporary changes to the employee’s normal terms and conditions of employment and should be confirmed in writing, with an agreed date for review.

Employers have a legal duty of care to take all reasonable steps to support the health, safety, and wellbeing of their employees. Failure to meet these obligations could expose an employer to employment law claims or indeed possible personal injury claims. These obligations extend to employees’ mental health as well as their physical wellbeing.

It is recommended that employers have policies and procedures in place to ensure mental health issues in the workplace are appropriately addressed and reasonable support provided when required.

If you are an employer and require employment law advice regarding the above or any other matters, contact David Dixey on 01206 593925.

Get Expert Legal Advice

Call 01206 593933 and speak to David Dixey, Employment Law Specialist. 
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David Dixey

Employment Law Specialist

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