For some people, coronavirus (COVID-19) can cause symptoms that will last weeks or months after the infection. This can be called 'post-COVID-19 syndrome', 'long-tail COVID' or 'long COVID'.
Long COVID symptoms could affect someone's ability to work or cause them to take sickness absence.
What you as an employer should do
Employers should be aware that the effects of long COVID can come and go. On some days the person might seem well, but on others their symptoms can be worse, and they might need to be off work again.
If someone is off sick, they might feel isolated or need support to return to work. Employers should:
· agree how and when to make contact during any absence
· make sure their work is covered and shared out appropriately while they’re off
· talk about ways to support them as they return to work where and when possible
When the employee feels able to return to work
You should talk with the employee about any support they may need. Discussions may include:
getting an occupational health assessment
making changes to the workplace or to how the employee works ('reasonable adjustments'), such as different working hours or a phased return to work
what they want to tell others at work about their illness
If an employee is struggling to do their job
If an employer feels the employee is not able to do their work or is taking a lot of absence, they should see if they can do anything to help. For example, a further occupational health assessment to find out if more support is needed. Employers should make sure they have done everything they can before considering a capability procedure. If an employer dismisses an employee without first carrying out a full and fair disciplinary or capability procedure, the employee could make a claim of unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal.
As well as disability, employers must be careful to avoid other types of discrimination when considering long COVID.
Long COVID has been found to more severely affect:
· older people
· ethnic minorities
and therefore, employers must be careful to avoid discriminating by age, disability, race or sex.
These are unchartered waters at the moment, and it is important that as employers you proceed with caution and care.