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What is long Covid and how can we manage it in the workplace?

As we continue to return to normality and see employees return to workplace, managing in a pandemic is not entirely over. We will continue to see further challenges associated with COVID-19, such as long Covid. This article explores the issue of long Covid and what it means for businesses.

What is long Covid?

The NHS reports that the recovery from COVID-19 can differ person to person. Whilst for many, a full recovery can be over days or a few weeks, there are some, whose recovery can continue much longer and continue to exhibit COVID-19 symptoms.

The Office for National Statistics report (July 2021):

  • An estimated 962,000 people in the UK are experiencing long Covid (i.e. persists for more than 4 weeks)
  • 40% reported that they had COVID-19 at least one year previously
  • 65% reported that their symptoms adversely affected their ability to carry out day to day activities
  • The most common symptom reported was fatigue followed by shortness of breath, muscle ache and difficulty with concentration
  • The demographics of those who have been affected the most proportionally, include females, those between the ages of 35 to 69 and those who work in health or social care.

How does it affect individuals?

Your absence policies will support you in managing cases of long Ccovid. Policies are important for ensuring consistent treatment of employees across the business, but there must also be some leeway within them to allow managers to make reasonable and fair decisions based on the circumstances. Employers should therefore be considerate of ill health that is attributed to COVID-19.

Cases of long Covid related absences can therefore trigger both the short and long-term sickness absence procedure. These procedures share similar steps in how they are managed, and both also have ultimately the same aim, which is to improve attendance levels and see that somebody is in the workplace consistently. Not only is it in the interest of the business to have people at work, but it is also in the interest of the employee and wider society.

If you are dealing with an employee with long Covid, the absence may be short-term, intermittent or long-term with an unclear end date. It will be crucial that you adhere to your own company policy for managing the absence, but here are some practices that are typically associated with an absence management policy which you are likely to find within your own:

  1. From the outset of the absence, agree a frequency and method of keeping in touch. This is so important, not only for the business in being able to manage their absence from work, but it helps the employee to keep in touch with regular updates and supports in their eventual return to work.
  2. Seek the help and support of a medical professional. We are not usually medically qualified so when it is appropriate, relying on experts to help our understanding of an employee’s health is so important. It helps us to understand the nature of their absence, prognosis, likely treatment needed in the future and therefore any further absences and any adjustments that could help in facilitate their return/attendance at work. Medical advice is usually obtained from their GP or an Occupational Health provider.
  3. If you have an Employee Assistance Programme, remind your employee of this. They are helpful for providing another source of support to the employee.
  4. For those that develop into long term absences, hold informal welfare meetings throughout. These are important for keeping in touch, helping you to plan their continued absence from a workload perspective, explore adjustments that may benefit in getting them back to work, and to discuss any medical reports obtained.
  5. Carry out a return-to-work interview on their first day back. This is an opportunity for the company to understand more about their health and wellbeing and identify if they need any support to help in their return.

Further guidance

If you require expert advice to help you to manage long Covid within your workplace, Contact Us.

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