News & Updates

The Implications of “Long COVID” on the Workplace – A New Type of Disability?

Liam A Entwistle

Published byLiam A Entwistle

20th April 2021

The Implications of “Long COVID” on the Workplace – A New Type of Disability?

We are all coming to terms with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in relation to the economic impact of the pandemic on employers, the arrangement their workplaces in future, whether the sudden imposition of remote working has changed the make-up of their workplaces for good. It also applies to those many thousands of people who were unfortunate enough to contract COVID-19.

A difficult implication of COVID-19, known as Post-COVID Syndrome or “Long COVID” has now arisen. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has, in its guideline scope, defined Long COVID as “signs and symptoms that develop during or following an infection consistent with COVID-19 which continue for more than twelve weeks and are not explained by an alternative diagnosis”.

The definition refers to clusters of symptoms, including “generalised” pain, fatigue, persisting high temperature and psychiatric problems. There are similarities to the early definitions of chronic fatigue syndrome (“ME”).

COVID-19 does not have to be diagnosed. The current evidence suggest sthat Long Covid symptoms are persistent and debilitating. It may be difficult to differentiate Long COVID psychiatric issues from those caused by the effects of national lockdowns.

The definition of disability in the Equality Act 2010 (S. 6(1)) is a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities

“Long-term” means over twelve months. Those who have presented with the earliest examples of Long COVID show that it easily lasts this length of time. The UK Courts say “substantial” means “not insubstantial” not a high hurdle Certainly, extreme tiredness could easily have such an effect.

As workforces return to the workplace, given the loose definition of Long COVID, the low bar for establishing disability and the impact of lockdowns, we can expect significant numbers of Long COVID diagnoses of Long COVID causing lengthy absences from the workplace.

If Long COVID is diagnosed or suspected, the condition should be treated as a probable disability. That should speed rehabilitation and avoid claims.

The information contained in this newsletter is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of relevant law and practice as at April 2021. Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP cannot be held responsible for any action taken or not taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be taken on any individual matter. Transmissions to or from our email system and calls to or from our offices may be monitored and/or recorded for regulatory purposes. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: 302 St Vincent Street, Glasgow, G2 5RZ. A limited liability partnership registered in Scotland, number SO 300336.