Long COVID is increasingly is an issue for employers as the lingering aftereffects and long road to recovery for some who will need ongoing support and understanding from their employers. advo hr takes a closer look.
We have all heard of Covid-19, but have you heard of Long COVID? Put simply, it is where people suffer from poor health for a long period of time after getting the virus. There are a wide range of symptoms, from extreme tiredness to rashes and can affect anyone who has had Covid-19 regardless of how severe their initial illness was.
The time frame for recovery from COVID-19 symptoms can range widely. Recent statistics have shown that one in ten people who tested positive for COVID-19, still had symptoms twelve weeks later. This can last longer.
What does this mean for employers?
Whilst an employee may no longer be infectious, there is the possibility that they may be suffering from Long COVID. Symptoms are so varied that it would be inadvisable for an employer to adopt a blanket approach. Each employee should be treated on a case-by-case basis as each individual may be affected very differently.
Not only may an employee feel very unwell, they may be worried about the long-term effects of this relatively unknown virus and a sympathetic approach should be taken. The employee may be anxious and benefit from professional counselling. If this is the case, it is advisable to signpost them to a support mechanism such as an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). Our Employee Benefits Team would be able to advise you about EAP’s and if you feel that this would be helpful, please contact us.
You may also wish to review and consider what support can be offered within your existing suite of benefits. As a result of COVID-19, many employee benefits providers have enhanced the tools and support provided and it may be worth double checking what is now available to your employees.
Communication and support are always paramount when dealing with absence. Please don’t ever be worried about contacting an employee who is off sick. An employer should always be concerned about an employee’s welfare and advo hr would always recommend regular updates and touchpoints with any employee who is off sick. Failure to contact an employee and enquire about their wellbeing can not only result in disengagement but can also make it more difficult to bring employees on sick leave, back to work.
Employers should have open conversations with the employee and try and be as sympathetic as possible. There should be no pressure on the employee to return to work before they feel well enough. Comments such as ‘everyone is so busy picking up your work’ may make an employee feel guilty about being unwell.
However, some employees will not go off sick but will try and continue working with Long COVID but may be physically unable to perform at their normal level because of the symptoms. In these circumstances, employers should be aware that this may be the case and it may be appropriate, with the agreement of the employee, to make temporary adjustments to working practices such as reduced hours or a different type of work.
If an employee is off work for a long time as a result of their symptoms, it is strongly recommended that professional advice is obtained from a medical professional or Occupational Health. This will help to determine the nature of any suitable adjustments that may be appropriate for the individual and support their return to work.
There are ways to manage absence effectively but it can be a complex and long process. However, failure to do follow any absence procedure could result in a claim at the Employment Tribunal.
It is too early to determine whether Long COVID will be classed as a disability under the Equality Act. However, if the symptoms continue for a significant period, it may fall under the definition of this legislation. There may also be other or underlying health issues that may fall under the Equality Act.
advo hr are here to help and support you and we would always wish to guide you any absence management issues prior to you taking any action and please don’t ever hesitate to contact us. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to start a conversation.