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Dealing with long Covid and the return to work

While the Government grapples with easing of lockdown restrictions, employers are continuing with their preparations to welcome employees (at least partially) back to the workplace.

While much of the focus during these preparations will be on preventing infections, employers should also consider how they will support employees who have already had Covid-19 and are now suffering from the long-term side effects, known as “long Covid”.

The ONS have estimated that at the beginning of March 2021, around 1.1 million people were experiencing symptoms associated with long Covid, with around a third of this number either having had or suspected they had Covid-19 at least 12 weeks earlier.

Long Covid is a new illness, and very little is known about how long it will last or what symptoms a person will experience. The complexity of this illness can pose a challenge for employers, as the types of support an employee may need as a result will vary greatly.

It is crucial that employers do not take a blanket approach to long Covid and instead take a more case-by-case basis. Communication with the employee is essential to establish what symptoms they are experiencing, and what the best course of action to assist them will be. Such discussions could be with their line manager, a HR professional or an external occupational health practitioner.

Following these discussions, employers should then consider what reasonable adjustments may be needed to help the employee in their return to the workplace. Usually, reasonable adjustments are put in place for employees who have a disability, but ACAS have issued new advised discouraging employers from trying to work out whether an employee with long Covid is disabled.

Instead, ACAS advise focusing on what steps could be taken to help the employee. Types of reasonable adjustments may include more closely managing the employee’s workload, the provision of further technical support, or allowing the employee to work from home more often as part of a hybrid working pattern. Any measures should be kept under regular review, to ensure they are still appropriate and can be either amended or removed depending on the employee’s needs.

Long Covid is a new illness, and very little is known about how long it will last or what symptoms a person will experience. The complexity of this illness can pose a challenge for employers, as the types of support an employee may need as a result will vary greatly.

Whichever adjustments are put in place, employers should ensure that they take a sensitive approach to discussions with the employee and work with them on adjustments. Employers should also be aware that certain groups of employees are more susceptible to long Covid than others; women, older individuals and people from ethnic minority backgrounds appear to be more likely to develop long Covid. As such, taking a sensitive and collaborative approach to dealing with long Covid may ensure employers avoid potential indirect discrimination claims.

Should you need any advice on how to assist an employee with long Covid, please contact our employment law team at Clarkslegal.

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This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

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