While the UK continues to plot a course out of the COVID-19 pandemic, for some people COVID-19 can cause symptoms that last weeks or months after the infection has gone. This is sometimes called post-COVID-19 syndrome or ‘Long COVID’.
The NHS says there are lots of symptoms people can have, but common symptoms include fatigue, difficulty sleeping, shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, joint pain, pins and needles, a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste, rashes, and mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.
Who gets Long COVID?
REACT-2 studies show that over a third of people who had COVID-19 reported symptoms lasting at least 12 weeks. In addition, the findings of studies suggested that prevalence of Long COVID increases with age, is higher among women, people who are overweight or obese, who smoke, live in deprived areas, or had been admitted to hospital.
Is Long COVID considered a disability?
Legally, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long term (has or will last for at least 12 months or can come and go or is likely to last for the rest of a person’s life) adverse effect on a person’s life and ability to do day to day activities.
Since COVID-19 is still a relatively new disease, Long COVID is too, meaning medical professionals are yet to fully understand how Long COVID might impact a person’s day to day life in the long term. Guidance from ACAS suggests that employers should focus on support and reasonable adjustments rather than definitions.
Maintaining contact to check how they are and prevent feelings of isolation.
Ensuring the necessary time is taken to rest and recuperate.
Offering workplace support, including occupational and psychological support services where you provide them.
What about returning to work?
It’s important to recognise that work is good for people and benefits overall wellbeing, however, when it comes to health, everyone is different. The reasonable adjustments and support needed differ from person to person, the type of role they have at work, and the degree and type of symptoms they have. Engage with individuals and healthcare teams, such as GPs for fit notes and occupational health for additional workplace advice, to understand what can be done to facilitate a successful return to work.
Given the range of Long COVID symptoms people could have, return to work plans and reasonable adjustments might include:
A phased return to work, such as starting with 1-2 days per week, which can be adapted as needed.
Planning proper rest breaks into the working day, which can be particularly important for people experiencing fatigue.
Adjusting start and end times so people get to travel outside of rush hour to avoid crowds if they’re experiencing anxiety or so they can get a seat if they have joint pain.
Adjusting the type of work a person does. For example, manual work, work that is heavily deadline driven, involves problem solving or working with the public, might exacerbate physical and mental symptoms of Long COVID.
Relocating the workstation to avoid climbing stairs.
Supplying alternative equipment, such as a soft touch keyboard or a more supportive task chair.
Supporting time off for medical appointments and taking account of ongoing medical professional recommendations.
Support with home working, where practical.
Employers should also consider what emergency help might be needed. For example personal emergency evacuation plans for people with affected mobility or with permission, telling first aiders and mental health first aiders about a person’s circumstances.
Monitoring and reviewing plans
Discuss with the individual when return to work plans will be reviewed, including before moving to any next steps (like increasing working days) to check everything is going to plan or where further adjustments might be needed.
Our experienced consultants are here to help with any return to work measures.