Long Covid is a relatively new condition and the full effects of it are still unknown. Whether long Covid meets the statutory definition of a disability will depend on the individual circumstances of the employee. Employers can minimise potential disability discrimination claims by treating long Covid in the same way it would treat any other disability, including considering if any reasonable adjustments are needed to support the employee in their role.
An employer should ensure that they maintain good communication with the employee during any period of sickness to ensure they are kept up to date with impacts of the illness on duties, treatment received and prognosis. The employer should speak to the employee to see how they can support the employee during the illness and to establish what return to work arrangements may need to be put in place on either a temporary or longer-term basis. To support the measures the employer may need to put in place, the employee will need to be assessed by Occupational Health.
An employer should look to see if any reasonable adjustments can be made to assist the employee with their role. For example, by changing the employee’s working hours, letting the employee do shorter days or giving the employee longer breaks. A capability procedure should be considered if the illness is adversely impacting the individual’s ability to carry out their role, but the above steps should be followed before an employer reaches this stage.
Current data indicates that women, ethnic minorities and older people are more prone to experience long Covid. An employer should therefore be careful that it does not discriminate on the grounds of sex, age or race, in addition to disability, when taking any measures that may impact on those with long Covid.
The DMH Stallard Employment
Team are hosting an event on Thursday 31 March on managing mental health and the effects of long Covid on staff returning to the office, sharing their insights on how employers can better handle difficult and sensitive issues such as this.