COVID-19: employee who caught COVID-19 two and a half weeks before dismissal was not disabled at relevant time (ET)

John Cook

An employment tribunal has determined that an employee who caught COVID-19 two and a half weeks before her dismissal did not have long COVID and was not disabled under section 6 of the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010) at the relevant time.

Mrs Quinn was employed as Head of People from 9 December 2019 until her dismissal on 27 July 2021. She tested positive for COVID-19 on or around 11 July 2021. She subsequently experienced fatigue, shortness of breath, pain and discomfort, headaches, and brain fog. These symptoms affected her everyday life and disrupted her sleep. She struggled with shopping and driving and stopped socialising and exercising. On 26 July, she contacted her GP to arrange an appointment. On 27 July, she was dismissed from her employment. She consulted with her GP on 2, 8 and 22 August, during which time she was deemed unfit to work due to ongoing symptomatic COVID-19. On 12 September, she was deemed unfit to work due to post-COVID-19 syndrome and diagnosed with long COVID.

Mrs Quinn brought a direct disability discrimination claim, among other claims. As a preliminary issue, a tribunal had to determine whether she was disabled at the time of her dismissal. She relied on the impairment of long COVID including having COVID-19 for longer than normal. She submitted that COVID-19 and long COVID are part of the same condition, and that other 50-year-old women with no underlying health conditions recovered more quickly than her after two weeks. Consequently, it could have been predicted that she would experience long COVID.

An employment tribunal found that she was not disabled under the EqA 2010 for the following reasons:

  • At the time of her dismissal, she did not have long COVID. She was not diagnosed with long COVID until around six weeks later.
  • While the impairment of COVID-19 had a substantial adverse effect on her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, this effect had lasted only two and a half weeks at the relevant time and was not long term.
  • The substantial majority of people who catch COVID-19 do not develop long COVID and do not suffer from it for more than a year. Accordingly, it cannot be said that the risk of developing long COVID “could well happen”.

In the circumstances at the time of her dismissal the substantial long-term effect had not lasted for 12 months and was not likely to last or recur for 12 months.

John Cook – Solicitor

John Cook

I am a qualified Solicitor with over 30 years’ experience running a business, managing a team, appearing in the Employment Tribunal and advising on almost every conceivable employment law and HR issue. Clients appreciate my down to earth and straight forward approach that allows them to achieve results and manage their organisation more effectively. I take the worry out of employment law and HR issues with a proactive and robust approach.