Coronavirus (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 it’s having an impact of businesses as affected workers try to get back to work.
The Office for National Statistics has estimated that over one million people have reported experiencing long COVID.
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.
“Our new advice 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.”
NHS advice is that long COVID symptoms can include:
- extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- shortness of breath
- chest pain or tightness
- problems with memory and concentration ("brain fog")
- difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- heart palpitations
- pins and needles
- joint pain
- depression and anxiety
- tinnitus, earaches
- feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
- a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
Once someone has been diagnosed as having long COVID, Acas advice is that employers and workers should discuss the impacts as early as possible and work together to find ways to help support employees who are suffering from it.
The effects of the condition are multiple and vary from person to person but the usual rules for sickness absence and sick pay apply when someone is off work because of long COVID.
There are many available options to employers to help their staff return to work, including:
- 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 rather than trying to work out if an employee’s condition is a disability.
- Acas stands for Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. Acas provides free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law. We support good relationships between employers and employees which underpin business success. We also provide good value, high quality training and tailored advice to employers. Our expertise is based on millions of contacts with employers and employees each year. Acas is an independent and impartial statutory body governed by a Council made up of members from business, trade unions, academia and the law.
- The NHS has information about long COVID.
- The ONS has stated that over a four-week period ending 6 March 2021, an estimated 1.1 million people in private households in the UK reported experiencing long COVID (symptoms persisting more than four weeks after the first suspected coronavirus (COVID-19) episode that are not explained by something else). Read the ONS information on long COVID.
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