For some people, symptoms of Covid have been known to persist for a long time after the infection is gone, commonly known as long Covid.

The effects of this can potentially last for weeks, months and even years.

So, how should employers manage staff suffering from the long-term after-effects of the virus?

Is long Covid a disability?

According to the Equality Act 2010, a disability is described as a “physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities”. 

In the recent employment tribunal case of Burke v Turning Point Scotland, it was found that Mr Burke’s long Covid symptoms met this definition and amounted to a disability.

Burke tested positive for Covid-19 in November 2020, with some of his symptoms including:

  • Severe headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Lack of mobility
  • Sleeplessness
  • Extreme fatigue.

He stayed signed off work before being dismissed by the company due to “ill-health” reasons in August 2021.

Burke claimed that this was disability discrimination, with the tribunal ultimately holding that Burke’s long Covid did qualify as a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

What can employers do?

While individual cases will differ, it is possible for employees in similar situations to convince a tribunal that their long Covid amounts to a disability.

Substantial compensation may be ordered in disability discrimination cases, and it is also likely that your firm’s reputation will suffer.

You should always listen to and trust your employees, thinking seriously about whether a particular case might amount to a disability.

If so, employers have a duty of care, ensuring reasonable adjustments can be made if necessary. This might include:

  • Allowing phased returns to work, modified working hours, home working where necessary, and offering occupational health and employee assistance services
  • Ensuring line managers know how to apply policies in a non-discriminatory manner
  • Changing internal procedures to account for the influence of long Covid symptoms on employee performance
  • Considering the use of your company’s permanent health insurance policy, if applicable, and how sporadic absence impacts employees’ entitlement.

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