How to look after workers with Long Covid

I came across a statistic recently that stopped me in my tracks. In a recent survey by the TUC of more than 3,000 people with Long Covid, two-thirds reported having experienced unfair treatment at work.

Five years ago, Long Covid didn’t exist. Now, almost one in ten of my clients has an employee with Long Covid – and that figure is set to rise. So knowing what you should do to support as well as sympathise, and what your legal obligations are as an employer, is vital.

What every employer should know – the physical, emotional & mental trauma of Long Covid

With the new variant on the rise, there’s a lot more Covid about again. Most of us will be off for a week, feel rough for a little longer, and then recover.

But one in ten will live with Long Covid for months, maybe even years.

Amongst my clients, there’s one man, in his thirties with a young family, who we’ve been supporting for over a year. He’s still not able to work full time, and he’s now accepted a part-time contract because he doesn’t believe his condition will improve. It’s heart-breaking. Another employee is a senior manager, but the brain fog that dogs Long Covid sufferers has impacted his ability to concentrate. Sometimes, he just has to leave a meeting, as he can’t focus, or make decisions.

The impact on self-confidence, and self-esteem can be huge – and so can the impact on a small business with a small team.

And as it’s such a new condition, with a multitude of symptoms from chronic fatigue to joint stiffness, Long Covid can be hard to spot.

Help with long covid

Is Long Covid classed as an underlying medical condition or disability?

I’m in no doubt that Long Covid will be classed as a disability sooner rather than later. In 2022, the Equality and Human Rights Commission or EHRC, confirmed that while Long Covid isn’t yet listed as a disability (like cancer, or MS), it may be treated as one if the condition has lasted for 12 months or longer.

So where does that leave you, the employer? A recent unlawful dismissal case concerning a worker with Long Covid in Scotland was upheld, even though the employee had been suffering for less than 12 months.

How you can help an employee with Long Covid

Humans aren’t machines, and HR is there to make sure that they’re not treated like one! You must respect what they’re sharing about their symptoms (believe it or not, some managers don’t) and take advice on practical ways to create a workable solution. That might include flexible working patterns, changed job responsibilities or additional rest breaks in the day.

These are the Long Covid guidelines we’ve developed for line managers:

  • Have a face-to-face, one-to-one meeting. Understand how they’re feeling, and what they are struggling with. Do particular tasks trigger their symptoms? Would more flexible work patterns, such as changes to hours, or working from home, help combat fatigue?
  • Request a referral to an independent Occupational Health adviser for them, so you can get a proper, medical opinion on reasonable adjustments. We often arrange these for our clients. Occupational Health may recommend changes to the environment or the role, or more flexible hours.
  • Talk through the occupational health report with your employee and agree the adjustments together. At Blossom, we follow this up with a Long Covid risk assessment, and written confirmation of the adjustments. We’re proud that we’ve proactively developed this risk assessment in response to our clients’ actual needs.

Help with Long Covid – For the record

You don’t have to follow Occupational Health recommendations to the letter. Indeed, if there’s a significant or unsustainable impact on the business, you may need to think again. But you may have to defend your actions in a tribunal if the worst came to the worst.

Protecting yourself & your business

What if the situation can’t be resolved? I haven’t had a case yet, but at some point, there’ll be a situation where we can’t make the necessary adjustments in the workplace. Because of the strong laws protecting individuals against disability discrimination, you need to be sure you’ve considered, explored and documented all proper adjustments.

As an experienced HR professional, I can help you demonstrate you’ve taken every reasonable step to support the individual and help you to de-risk the situation.

Managing Long Covid in the workplace – breaking new ground

Long Covid is new to us all. New to HR, new to the medical profession, new to business owners. At Blossom, we’re here to help you navigate the new.

Need some advice on managing Long Covid at work? Get in touch and take advantage of our complimentary half an hour consultation today.