Acas releases new guidance on long Covid
Coronavirus can cause symptoms for some people that can last weeks or months after the infection has gone. This is what is widely known as ‘long Covid’ and, according to Acas, it is having an impact on businesses as workers who have had the virus try to get back to work. Given that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has estimated that over one million people have reported experiencing long Covid, the conciliation and mediation service, Acas, has issued an advice note.
Firstly, the advice highlights that the symptoms of long Covid are varied and can include:
- extreme tiredness
- shortness of breath
- chest pain or tightness
- problems with memory and concentration (also known as a ‘brain fog’)
- difficulty sleeping
- heart palpitations
- pins and needles
- joint pain.
Other patients have reported depression and anxiety; tinnitus; earaches; feeling sick; diarrhoea; stomach aches; loss of appetite; a high temperature; headaches; sore throat; changes to sense of smell or taste; and rashes.
The advice note also offers practical tips on how employers can manage the various effects of the condition in a sensitive way, as well a range of options that can help staff get back to work safely. It suggests that employers should:
- apply the usual rules on sickness absence and sick pay where necessary
- arrange and offer occupational health assessments
- look into reasonable adjustments, which can vary from changed hours, to adapted physical workspaces, and
- discuss flexible working as an option as well as phased returns, which may mean coming back part-time initially to build back up to working usual hours.
As long Covid is a new illness, Acas is also hesitant to state whether it will be considered a disability. However, what is clear is that it may lead to conditions that do fall into this category and employers should be mindful of this, alongside the danger of discrimination. The guidance therefore advises employers not to focus on whether long Covid should/can be considered a disability, but instead to prioritise the ways they can help staff to combat the symptoms and return to work safely. To this end, it also cautions against capability procedures until all other options have been considered.
Finally, although disability discrimination may not be a clear result of neglecting to take action, the guidance states that certain groups of people in particular are suffering most from long Covid – including those who are older, from ethnic minority backgrounds, or women – and poor treatment of them in this regard could lead to claims of constructive unfair dismissal.