It’s me and my ramblings again…
Hope you have all had a good week, despite the dreary wet weather. I have just popped on to give you an update on some guidance that ACAS recently published in relation to the growing impact that long COVID is having on the workplace.
For some time now, the NHS have recognised that contracting COVID-19 can not only have an immediate impact on an individual’s life and general well-being, but that the infection can also have long-term effects for some. This is commonly referred to as “long COVID” “post COVID-19 syndrome” or “long-tail COVID”. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that over 1 million people have reported experiencing long COVID.
In response, ACAS has now published advice on how best to move forwards/assist any employees suffering the effects of long COVID. The new guidance outlines a list of long COVID symptoms that can last weeks or months after the infection has gone, including fatigue and problems with memory and concentration (you might have heard people describe this as “brain fog”). The guidance also outlines how employers should manage sickness and absence in relation to long COVID and also the issue of whether long COVID is likely to be considered a disability under UK employment Law.
In brief, ACAS suggests that upon diagnosis, employers and employees should discuss potential impacts of long COVID as early as possible and work together to formulate ways to support sufferers, which could be things such as offering flexible working and considering reasonably adjustments. They also state that, despite variations in the effects of the condition, the usual rules for sickness absence and sick pay apply when someone is off work because of long COVID.
Now, a question that has come up as a result of this, is whether long COVID will now be considered a disability. Now, this is a biggie… and will ultimately have to be determined by the Employment Tribunal.
As we know under the Equality Act 2010 (EQA) a person is recognised as having a disability if they have a mental or physical impairment that has a “substantial and long term adverse effect” on that person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. With long COVID being a condition that is relatively new and one that we do not yet really fully understand, the “long-term” requirement of the EQA’s definition of disability is where we are going to likely see quite a lot of debate. Whereas, the “substantial effect” side of the definition may sparkless controversy, as the ACAS guidance itself notes that the long COVID symptoms could effect ability to work. However, the effect on the individual will still need to be more than trivial.
If the above situation was to arise then we would advise that you focus primarily on any reasonable adjustments that you might be able to make, as opposed to focusing on whether or not the employee in question has a disability.
A final point for employers to consider, is that within the guidance from ACAS they highlight the fact that long COVID appears to have a more severe and disproportionate effect on particular groups of people, such as the elderly, ethnic minorities and women. It is really important, therefore, that employers bear this in mind when dealing with long COVID and how absence management is handled in each particular instance.
The key points to take away from this is… keep up to date with all new guidance that is published to ensure you have all your ducks in a row and make sure that you communicate.. communicate… communicate… with your employees.
As always, if you have any queries about any of what I have rambled on about or have a question on anything else then please do get in touch.