HR Expert: Long Covid

A client is worried about the possible effects of what is known as ‘long Covid’. Their questions are as follows:

How can the client manage a situation where affected staff members have different symptoms?
The lasting impact of having caught coronavirus can be long-term, depending on the individual; long Covid should therefore be dealt with in the same way as any other medical condition. Your client should always consider each situation individually when their employees are suffering from any kind of medical condition because the effect on each person can be different.

The important thing is not to have a blanket approach to employees who are confirmed to have long Covid, which means that a discussion should be has between your client and each of their affected employees to identify how it affects them and to decide on the support that is needed to ensure that the employee is able to continue working well.

Is it likely to be classified as a disability?
Employment tribunals consider various different elements when deciding whether a condition is to be treated as a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. One of these is whether the condition has long-term effects, which means that it has lasted, or is expected to last, for 12 months. It is not possible, at this stage, to know whether long Covid meets this definition because of its newness and the uncertainty surrounding it.

However, if it is found that it does meet the definition, and has a substantial adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out day to day activities, then is it likely that it will be considered a disability.

What are the risks to the client if they fail to acknowledge or support an employee suffering from long Covid?
In the immediate term, your client is likely to experience significant amounts of sickness absence which need to be managed; this usually comes with extra spend on agency workers, for example, or other temporary workers to bridge the gap, or extra pressure on colleagues who need to pick up the extra work. The added expenditure of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or contractual sick pay will also be a burden. Employees on long term sick leave can become more difficult to bring back to work especially if they feel they have not been supported by the employer. Disengagement can also be an issue with long term sick leave which makes it more likely that the employee will begin to question their future within your client’s business.

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