Businesses must prepare to treat the conditions of long Covid as a disability within the workplace, according to a law firm.
Senior health professionals recently suggested up to a million people will need treatment for the condition after June, the point at which restrictions are expected to be widely removed by the government.
The NHS says that coronavirus can cause symptoms that last weeks or months after the infection has gone. This is sometimes called post-Covid-19 syndrome or "long Covid". Experts believe one in five long Covid sufferers may need up to six months off work to get better – and in some cases even more time.
Ella Bond, an employment expert at Harper James Solicitors, says it is important for businesses of all sizes to prepare right now for the potential impact of long Covid in the weeks and months ahead.
She said: “It’s vitally important employers are ready for the possible impact long Covid will have on both their employees and their business.
"Employers should treat the illness as they would any other condition and assess the impact on each employee on a case-by-case basis. While it is still too early to gauge how long some employees may suffer from the illness, employers should keep in mind that it is possible long Covid could meet the definition of being a disability.
“This will depend on its severity, effects, and how long a medical practitioner assesses that it has or could last for. In addition, the impact of the illness could exacerbate other conditions or lead to mental health issues such as depression or PTSD. These factors should be kept front and centre of an employer’s mind when dealing with the issue. All employers will need to be careful not to fall foul of discrimination legislation as they manage the impact of long Covid in their business."
Bond says that some of the actions businesses could take would be to “update your company’s absence management policy” by including “clear guidance on what payments are provided to employees during sickness absence, together with the detail on management and support measures”.
Managers should also be appropriately trained on the company’s absence management policies and procedures, she added.
She also recommends that absence management software and a consideration of what adjustments could be introduced to support an employee with long Covid. Adjustments could include a phased return, flexible working, or working reduced hours to help with symptoms such as fatigue.