Since the start of the pandemic, a significant minority of people have reported long-term adverse effects related to Covid-19, often referred to as long Covid. While we do not have medical clarity about its effects and duration yet, reported symptoms include fatigue, pain, headaches, breathing difficulties, muscle weakness, lasting fever, anxiety and stress. Symptoms appear to fluctuate over a long period, with individuals feeling fit one day and debilitated the next. Significantly, long Covid sufferers have included young, active and healthy people, not just the elderly or those with underlying health conditions.
Those with long Covid may be disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if their symptoms have a substantial and adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal daily activities, such as walking, exercising and so on, and these are likely to last at least 12 months. If individuals are disabled, employers have a positive obligation to consider what reasonable adjustments can be made to alleviate any disadvantage suffered, for example, adjusting working hours. Additionally, disabled individuals should be treated in a non-discriminatory way and consistently with other employees on long-term sickness absence.
Permanent health insurance, or group income protection, can help employers support staff who become incapacitated long-term. If their eligibility criteria are met, insurers pay out sums which employers can pass onto employees, such that they receive full or partial salary while they cannot work. It is advisable for employers to speak to their insurers about their approach to long Covid.
Additionally, employers may consider furloughing employees who are off sick with long Covid. However, this will need to be managed carefully to ensure the furlough scheme is not abused and further legal advice should be sought.
Shalina Crossley is a partner at Lewis Silkin