Can long COVID be classed as a disability?

Millions of employees have been affected by long COVID in recent months. The illness has affected everyone in different ways, but employers must be aware of how the long-term symptoms are likely to affect their workers.

A tribunal recently found for the first time that long COVID could be classed as a disability, after a charity caretaker brought a case of disability discrimination against his former employer.

This landmark case could have a snowball effect and lead to a significant rise in claims against employers who penalise employers suffering from long COVID symptoms.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, says that employers should make reasonable adjustments for employees suffering from the illness going forward:

“If symptoms of long COVID have a long-term adverse impact on an employee’s ability to carry out normal daily tasks, employers should bear in mind that it could be classed as a disability.

“With cases currently on the rise, long COVID may start to affect more people, meaning many employees could find themselves suffering from exhaustion, severe headaches, and fatigue, making completing basic tasks a challenge.

“For employees struggling with this, it’s best to hold regular welfare meetings and get updates on their health. This can include details on what their doctors are saying about their progress and what treatments they are on, so you can support them with reasonable adjustments.

“Common adjustments may incorporate a phased return to the workplace, reduced hours, or duties, longer or more frequent breaks, home working or hybrid working, amended absence triggers and flexibility with last-minute absences. Employers may want to consider an occupational health assessment to determine what adjustments are needed and set a date to review the arrangements.”

“Long COVID affects everyone differently, so your approach needs to be personal to each employee. A one-size fits all approach is unlikely to help.”