Long Covid and employment

The following provides resources and guidance for members affected by Long Covid

Useful Resources

Individuals affected by Long Covid may continue to experience serious symptoms for a significant period after the initial infection and be unable to return to the life they enjoyed before they fell ill.  

The impact can be far reaching, affecting their ability to return to their job, to participate in hobbies and engage in their normal interactions with family and friends.  They may face financial uncertainty too if they aren’t fit to return to work.

It is important to ensure that individuals are aware of possible avenues of information and support.  Some useful links are provided here:

Long Covid and equalities

This section below focuses specifically on provisions within the Equality Act, which may be relevant in some circumstances.

The Equality Act 2010 seeks to secure equal treatment for people with a protected characteristic compared to others without that characteristic.  The Equality Act prohibits less favourable treatment (discrimination) on the following grounds:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion and belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

In the context of long Covid, there are two potential areas for consideration:

  1. Disability discrimination including a potential failure to make reasonable adjustments

    For more information on this, please see FAQ 5 &6 (below)
  2. Discrimination in respect of other protected characteristics.

    Researchers from Kings College London have identified a number of risk factors for the development of Covid or long Covid.  Specifically, women under 50 years old are 50% more likely to suffer from long Covid that men in the same age group.  Older age is a known risk factor for Covid 19 and those of a Black Asian and minority ethnic groups are disproportionately affected.

Employers should be vigilant to avoid a disability discrimination claim or an indirect discrimination claim when they deal with workers who have a diagnosis or symptoms suggestive of long Covid/post Covid syndrome.

Frequently asked questions about Long Covid and employment

CSP stewards and safety reps are well placed to support members with long Covid.  Where trade unions are recognised, sickness absence policies include references to the right to be accompanied to meetings by a trade union representative or colleague. We would advise members to contact their steward or safety rep early in any processes.

I am on sick leave with Long Covid.  I work in the NHS so what pay should I be getting?

During any period of Covid 19 related sickness absence, you should receive full pay, including any pay enhancements such as cost of living supplements or unsocial hours payments, you would have received if you had worked your planned shifts.

Covid-19 related absence will be recorded separately from other absences and will not be managed under your NHS organisation’s existing Sickness Absence Policies.

This means the following will apply for any absences caused by your sickness due to Covid-19:

  • They will be recorded separately as Covid-19 related absence.
  • The pay you receive will not be affected by or be counted towards your existing entitlements to paid sick leave.
  • Absences will not be counted towards any sickness absence related policy triggers.
  • Entitlement and access to other forms of special leave will not be affected.

NHS Employers: sickness absence


I am on sick leave with Long Covid.  I work outside the NHS so what pay should I be getting?

Check with your employer and review your contract of employment to see what entitlements you have to sick pay. 

If you do not have contractual sick pay, so long as you regularly earn £118 or more a week you should be entitled to SSP.  You can check your eligibility on the gov.uk website.

From 13 March 2020, Statutory Sick Pay [SSP] is available for all eligible employees diagnosed with Covid-19.  It is payable from the first day you are unable to attend work.

Some private sector employers take out permanent health insurance or income protection insurance to provide support to staff who become incapacitated during their employment. Such policies enable employers to access money that they can pass onto employees to make up some or all of their normal salary. These policies have eligibility criteria that the employee has to satisfy.  The fact that Covid 19 is a new disease with an uncertain prognosis may make this problematic, although there are early signs from the insurance companies that underwrite the policies that in some circumstances long Covid may sufferers may be covered.  It is certainly worth checking whether your employer does purchase group cover in any relevant insurance arrangements.


How should my employer support me with my return to work?

Your employer’s sickness absence policy should describe the process that you can expect so this is a useful resource to access at an early stage.  

Employers should seek Occupational Health advice to support your return to work (RTW) after a lengthy period of sickness absence.  This OH assessment should cover whether you are likely to be covered by the Equality Act, the need for a phased return (gradually building up hours and responsibilities) and any reasonable adjustments that might be necessary.

You should be encouraged to contribute in any discussions with your manager about RTW plans, as you know how you are feeling and the demands of your job. 

In the NHS, you should suffer no detriment in terms of pay during your phased RTW following a Covid related absence.  If you work outside the NHS, you would need to check your pay entitlement in the company policy.  CSP takes the view that it is in the interests of employers to encourage staff to return to work as soon as they are well enough and therefore support them financially to do so without detriment.


What are my options if I am ready to undertake some work but not fit for my previous job?

GPs are able to issue ‘fit notes’ in circumstances where you and the doctor agree that you are fit enough to undertake some work, but not return to your previous job.

A fit note requires your GP to confirm that you are either “Not fit for work” or “May be fit for some work, taking account of the following advice”

The GP can suggest one of four options:

  • A phased return to work
  • Altered hours
  • Amended duties
  • Workplace adaptations

The aim of fit notes is to facilitate an earlier return to work, but employers are not legally obliged to accept the option proposed.  If your employer cannot accommodate it, then the fit note must be treated as if your GP has stated that you are “Not fit for work” and you will remain off sick.


Will I be Covered by the Equality Act?

Disability is defined in the Equality Act and an individual has to satisfy all elements to be covered.  A person has a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effecton their ability to carry outnormal day-to-day activities. It counts as long term if it has lasted 12 months or is likely to last at least 12 months or likely to last for the whole of their life

The fact that Covid 19 is a relatively new disease and we are still learning how it manifests means that there is limited evidence available currently about the long-term prognosis for ‘Long Covid’ or ‘Post Covid Syndrome’. However, the multi system presentation and the similarity to existing conditions that can fall within scope, like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, suggests that the some severely affected individuals are likely to be covered.  If in doubt, please contact your CSP steward for further advice.


What is a 'reasonable adjustment'?

An employer has a duty under the Equality Act (section 20), to make 'reasonable adjustments' ie to take reasonable steps, to alleviate any substantial disadvantage to a disabled person because of any provision, criterion or practice (PCP) at work.  PCPs might include the provisions of employment policies like sickness absence and capability or existing terms and conditions such as hours of work or working patterns. Reasonable adjustments can also include physical changes to the workplace.

Employers are expected to remove barriers that make it harder for a disabled worker to enter the workplace and to contribute productively.  Specific reasonable adjustments might include reallocating duties, reducing working hours, allowing extra breaks, modifying absence trigger points, moving a worker to a more accessible work location or allowing them to continue to work from home.  Appropriate reasonable adjustments depend on the nature of the disability and should be the subject of discussion and agreement with the individual and potentially with their representative. 

Even if an individual was not covered by the Equalities Act we would expect employers to be supportive and put in reasonable adjustments wherever possible in the interests of facilitating a return to work.


 

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