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Supporting Employees with Long COVID

Understanding Long COVID

Long COVID is a term used to describe the effects of COVID-19 that continue for weeks or months beyond the initial illness. The NHS lists the symptoms of Long COVID with the most common including extreme tiredness, shortness of breath, muscle ache, and difficulty concentrating. The symptoms of Long COVID are similar to conditions which have fluctuating symptoms that are unpredictable, such as ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Disability and Long COVID

Long COVID is not on the list of disabilities under the Equality Act 2010, however:
• Staff may have a pre-existing condition that when combined with the effect of Long COVID symptoms meets the legal definition of disability
• The mental and physical symptoms that arise from Long COVID are very likely to be protected as disabilities under the Act
• The effects of Long COVID are similar to those of conditions such as ME and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. As such, these types of fluctuating and persistent symptoms are likely to meet the Equality Act criteria of a disability of being “substantial” and “long-term”

Managers are advised to be aware of this when supporting those employees with Long COVID. Managers can also review the University guidance for supporting disabled employees and guidance on Chronic Pain and Fatigue.

Tips for Managers

Be proactive about engaging with and supporting employees experiencing Long COVID symptoms:
• Follow the University guidance for supporting disabled staff and consider what reasonable adjustments are possible
• Review the guidance on Chronic Pain and Fatigue
• Engage with the University Occupational Health Service
• Comply with the University flexible working and sickness absence policy
• Follow the sickness absence procedure, be proactive about communication and carry out return to work interviews
• Where possible try to be flexible and innovative in the ways in which you find solutions and provide support
• Work from the start to facilitate long-term solutions
• Continue to be supportive. This might be the start of an ongoing process over an indefinite period of time and patience may be required

Possible Adjustments

Symptoms and effects will be different for each person so every case will need to be considered on its own facts. Possible adjustments to consider include:
• Allowing phased returns to work (following sickness absence)
• Adjustments to working hours, location and the type of work done (for example, being able to start work later to do physio exercises before work)
• Where possible supporting continued homeworking
• Providing refresher workstation assessments and reviewing homeworking set ups
• Help with pace/goal setting (for example a gradual increase in hours and duties)
• Provision for longer breaks
• Allowing time off to attend health assessments and treatments

Please view the Business Disability Forum’s (BDF) detailed advice on adjustments for staff with Long COVID. To access BDF resources register with your University of Leeds email address on the BDF signup webpage.

Useful Resources

Disability & Long COVID (SHOOSMITHS)
How technology can support with symptoms of Long COVID (Abiltynet)
• Webinar: Supporting staff with Long Covid and other chronic fatigue conditions (Microsoft Stream) organised by the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Staff Network