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07 May 2024

How can UK employers support staff with long covid? James Townsend for IEL

James Townsend, Partner and co-head of the Employment team at Payne Hicks Beach, spoke to International Employment Lawyer this week about the often controversial topic of how and when employers are obligated to support staff with long Covid – a condition that could be legally considered to be a disability in the UK.

In the article authored by Josh Stephens at the International Employment Lawyer, Josh report that “According to the survey, 3.3% of people living in private households in England and Scotland had covid symptoms persisting for more than four weeks after their initial infection, with 1.5 million people saying it had adversely affected their day-to-day activities, and 381,000 people reporting their ability to undergo regular activities had been severely limited.

This is an increase from the 2.9% of people who reported long covid in March 2023. The vast majority of respondents claim to have experienced symptoms for more than a year, while over 30% report their symptoms began more than three years ago.

Respondents ages 45-64 were the most likely to report symptoms, while under 18s and over 75s were the least likely. The most common symptom was weakness or tiredness, which was experienced by 54% of people, followed by shortness of breath (43.7%), difficulty concentrating (39.5%), and muscle ache (36.7%).

“This data confirms what we are already seeing in the patient community – that, far from being a remnant of the pandemic peak, long covid is in fact increasing, as the rate at which people develop this illness outstrips those recovering from it,” said Danny Altmann, Professor of Immunology at Imperial College London.

“This is not surprising, given the lack of awareness and investment in this condition. Four years on from the pandemic we are still failing these patients. This is a global health crisis and it is not getting the attention it demands.”

But questions remain on how employers should approach workers who suffer from long covid. While the UK does legally consider it to be a disability, the majority of reported cases come from self-diagnosis.”

James Townsend, Partner and Employment Law expert at Payne Hicks Beach comments, “The burden of proof rests with the employee to show that the condition affecting them amounts to a disability”. “Symptoms associated with long covid may amount to a disability in law, but only if the symptoms persist or are likely to persist for at least a year.” Townsend adds that the symptoms complained of must have a significant adverse effect on the employee’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities.

Even so, allegations of discrimination due against long covid sufferers are common.

Click to read the full article, which has been linked with kind permission. 


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