Managing the risk of long COVID in your business

Wednesday November 9, 2022

It would be an understatement to say that COVID changed the way SMEs work. In fact, it would be a huge understatement to say that.

The pandemic shifted many things we knew about working and running businesses.

We are learning to live with COVID, but yet another consideration for SME business owners is the long COVID problem that some of their team may be facing.

What is long COVID?

Long COVID is where people suffer the symptoms of the virus for weeks, months or even years after their initial infection.

Symptoms vary from person to person, but can include or affect:

  • Fatigue, fever, and pain
  • Breathing (respiratory symptoms)
  • The heart and circulation (cardiovascular symptoms)
  • The brain (neurological symptoms)
  • The digestive system (gastrointestinal symptoms)
  • Joints and muscles (musculoskeletal symptoms)
  • Mental health (psychological symptoms)
  • Ear, nose and throat symptoms
  • The skin (dermatological symptoms)

In the workplace, long COVID can affect your employees’ performance and cause them to need to take time off.

Is long COVID a disability?

By law a disability is a physical or mental impairment that causes a “long-term and substantial adverse effect on a someone’s ability to do normal daily activities”. To be classed as “long-term” the condition will, or is likely to, affect them for at least a year.

Long COVID can have such a severe impact that, in some circumstances, it would be considered a disability.

A recent Scottish employment tribunal confirmed that long COVID might be considered a disability that is protected under the Equality Act 2010.

Supporting an employee with long COVID

Be understanding to your employee’s situation and where possible make reasonable adjustments to allow them to continue with you.

For employees suffering from long COVID that is affecting their ability to work, having an Occupational Health report done is the first step. The report may recommend adjustments to their work or a phased return to work.

Recommendations may suggest letting them work more flexibly around their symptoms – a hybrid working pattern could be an option if your business allows.

It is important to remember that if an employee is unable to do their job, then you can carry out a capability, ill health procedure. We would recommend professional advice if you go down this route, as there is a risk of an unfair dismissal and disability discrimination claim.

Avoiding discrimination

Long COVID has been found to affect older people, ethnic minorities, and women more severely than most. So, as well as disability, it is important to consider other types of discrimination when thinking about long COVID.

Treating anyone unfairly based on the above would constitute discrimination as they are all protected characteristics.

It is crucial to keep in mind that discrimination claims can be unlimited.

Here to help

If long COVID and sick leave is giving you a headache, it can be beneficial to have a robust absence policy in place.

Your local HR Dept is here to help, so feel free to contact us today.

Preventing People Problems

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