For some people, coronavirus (COVID-19) can cause symptoms that last weeks or months after the infection. This is called Long COVID and its symptoms could affect someone’s ability to work or cause them to take sickness absence.
The usual rules for sickness absence and sick pay apply when someone is off work because of Long COVID.
What the Employer should do
The employer should talk with the employee about any support they may need. They could discuss:
- Conducting an absence meeting
- getting an occupational health assessment
- making changes to the workplace or to how the employee works (‘reasonable adjustments’), such as different working hours
- 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 on return
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.
They 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.
Whether long COVID is treated as a disability
Under the law, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial and long-term’ negative effect on a person’s ability to do normal day-to-day activities.
‘Long term’ means the impairment:
- has lasted or will last for at least 12 months
- can come and go or is likely to last for the rest of the person’s life
Long COVID is still a new illness and it may take time to understand it fully. It can affect a person’s day-to-day activities and it’s currently understood that it can last or come and go for several months. The effects of long COVID could also cause other impairments.
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.