Long Covid and returning to work: a guide to good practice

How employers can help support those with Long Covid in their return to work

A healthcare professional assesses a patient with long Covid

For a number of people, the acute phase of Covid-19 isn’t the end of the story, and the symptoms described as Long Covid impact their lives.

Many of those affected are of working age, previously fit and well, and now struggling with debilitating symptoms. These include brain fog, memory problems, anxiety, and tiredness. For some who developed Covid in the early days of the pandemic this has been their new normal for over 12 months.

Employers need to be aware that Long Covid can present in different ways in different people. Also, symptoms can vary in a single individual on any given day.

Some people diagnosed with Long Covid report being disbelieved by their employer because their signs and symptoms are inconsistent. Attempts to ‘push through’ to comply with inflexible phased return to work programmes are ill advised. These may result in setbacks and extending and jeopardising any return to work.

Supporting staff with Long Covid

There are many factors that contribute to a successful return to work. This may have to be on reduced hours and/or in a modified or different role because of persistent symptoms.

Covid leave/pay

In the NHS staff with Long Covid receive full pay and the normal sickness absence triggers don’t apply. Some non-NHS employers have also explored ways to support staff financially as they recover.

What managers can do

Managers can support staff by:

  • keeping in touch in a non-intrusive way,
  • informing themselves about Long Covid and its impact,
  • not trying to force the pace and also resisting the member’s attempts to return to work prematurely
  • being flexible in tailoring return to work plans
  • using a problem-solving approach with the member (and rep)

Occupational health input

Occupational health service involvement is key. This involves assessment and ongoing advice to the employer and employee. It also involves access to other services such as

  • counselling
  • physiotherapy
  • Long Covid support groups

Long Covid support groups can invaluable for sharing experiences and practical advice. They can also help with the feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety.

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