The impact of long Covid on employers and workers

Covid-19 can cause symptoms for some people that can last weeks or months after the infection has gone. This is now widely known as long Covid and, according to Acas, it is having an impact on businesses as affected workers try to get back to work.

Given that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has estimated that over one million people have reported experiencing long Covid, the conciliation and mediation service has decided to issue an advice note.

This highlights that the symptoms are many and varied and include: extreme tiredness; shortness of breath; chest pain or tightness; problems with memory and concentration (“brain fog”); difficulty sleeping; heart palpitations; dizziness; pins and needles; and joint pain.
Other patients have reported depression and anxiety; tinnitus; earaches; feeling sick; diarrhoea; stomach aches; loss of appetite; a high temperature; headaches; sore throat; changes to sense of smell or taste; and rashes.

Acas Chief Executive, Susan Clews, said: “Long Covid is a relatively new illness and for some people it can be debilitating. For others, its effects are variable and a worker could be fine one day but need to be off work if their symptoms worsen. We have been contacted by workers suffering from its symptoms who are unsure of their rights and from employers who want advice on how to best support their staff.”

The advice note offers practical tips for employers to manage the various effects of the condition in a sensitive way as well a range of options that can help staff get back to work safely.

It suggests that employers should:

  • arrange and offer occupational health assessments;
  • look into reasonable adjustments, which can vary from changed hours, to adapted physical workspaces; and
  • discuss flexible working as an option as well as phased returns, which may mean coming back part-time initially to build back up to working usual hours.

“It’s a good idea for the employer to focus on the reasonable adjustments they can make,” Acas said, “rather than trying to work out if an employee’s condition is a disability.”

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