Why long Covid could be classed a disability in employment terms

Why long Covid could be classed a disability in employment terms

As the government removes Covid restrictions and relaxes its work from home message, many businesses are now looking forward to welcoming employees back into offices and workplaces. For many staff, this may see them return to their desks for the first time since March 2020, having spent more than a year working remotely in makeshift home offices. As businesses grapple with this return to work, one new hurdle they must overcome is the challenge of long Covid.

Senior health professionals recently suggested up to a million people will need treatment for the condition after June, the point at which restrictions are expected to be widely removed by the government. Experts believe one in five long Covid sufferers may need up to six months off work to get better, with long Covid clearly set to become an issue in workplaces across the country. Harper James Solicitors, which specialises in supporting businesses from start-up to scale-up, has prepared new advice to help companies best prepare.

Ella Bond, one of our employment experts, says it’s important for businesses of all sizes to prepare right now for the potential impact of long Covid in the weeks and months ahead. 'It’s vitally important employers are ready for the possible impact long Covid will have on both their employees and their business,' she says.

'Employers should treat the illness as they would any other condition and assess the impact on each employee on a case-by-case basis. While it is still too early to gauge how long some employees may suffer from the illness, employers should keep in mind that it is possible long Covid could meet the definition of being a disability.

'This will depend on its severity, effects and how long a medical practitioner assesses that it has or could last for. In addition, the impact of the illness could exacerbate other conditions or lead to mental health issues such as depression or PTSD. These factors should be kept front and centre of an employer’s mind when dealing with the issue. All employers will need to be careful not to fall foul of discrimination legislation as they manage the impact of long Covid in their business.'

Ella suggests six steps to follow to help your business deal with long Covid:

  1. Update your company’s absence management policy. Include clear guidance on what payments are provided to employees during sickness absence, together with the detail on management and support measures.
  2. Managers should be appropriately trained on the company’s absence management policies and procedures.
  3. Keep records of the dates and reasons for employees’ absence. Having absence management software in place would be a useful tool for this, to help you to track trends and identify the support which may be required for an employee.
  4. Hold absence review and return to work meetings with employees to open up discussions and, again, assess what support may be required.
  5. Consider what adjustments could be introduced to support an employee with long Covid. Adjustments could include a phased return, flexible working or working reduced hours to help with symptoms such as fatigue.
  6. Listen to and support employees. A compassionate approach could encourage employees to return to the workplace as well as facilitating open communications and positive employee relations.

For the latest advice on Covid-19 related employment issues like long Covid and more, contact one of our advisers, who can discuss what's best for your business.

Our employment expert

Ella Bond

Ella Bond

Senior Employment Law Solicitor
Ella joined Harper James as a Senior Solicitor in January 2020, having previously worked at top 50 West Midlands law firm Shakespeares (now Shakespeare Martineau). Having qualified in 2007, she is highly experienced in the field of Employment Law, working with a vast range of clients from start-ups to large national and multi-national companies.

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