Dealing with long Covid in the workplace

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick May 19, 2022 12:00

Whilst it appears that we have emerged from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, with most people making a full recovery, there are an estimated 1.5 million people in the UK who have developed long-term health complications following their initial coronavirus infection. This is often referred to as ‘long Covid’ and it can create problems in relation to a person’s ability to carry out the job in which they were originally engaged. We look here at what golf clubs can do to manage employees who suffer with long Covid.

What is ‘long Covid’?

The symptoms can vary from person to person and there is no definitive list. Those that are commonly reported include:

• Extreme fatigue

• Shortness of breath

• Joint pain

• Anxiety and depression

• Concentration and memory lapses (often referred to as ‘brain fog’)

• Changes in hearing, smell and taste.

There is no medical guidance in existence to provide us with a definition, as well as there being no legal definition. As can be seen, though, from the list of symptoms above, it could be easy to understand why such symptoms could have a negative impact on a person’s working life.

The timescales involved for long Covid vary from person to person as well. The World Health Organisation states that long Covid usually occurs three months from the point of onset of the coronavirus infection, with symptoms that last at least two months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.

Employees who suffer with long Covid may suffer the symptoms constantly or they may recur periodically and could be made worse by the onset of stress.

The law as it stands now

Long Covid is not provided for specifically within the Equality Act 2010 as far as being a recognised disability. For an illness such as cancer, where the employee is likely to have received both a diagnosis and treatment plan, it is deemed a disability within the provisions of that act. Many people will view that some of the symptoms of long Covid are likely to fit the definition of a disability within the Equality Act 2010 and the head of employment policy at the Equality and Human Rights Commission has recently stated that employers should presume that employees’ long Covid symptoms amount to a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010. That somewhat cautious approach does not recognise the variations in severity and time duration of this condition meaning that it might not always be an appropriate approach.

Employers should, though, keep an open mind and be as flexible as possible in relation to any employee’s health problems since if the condition does worsen sufficiently to amount to a disability, then there is less likely to be a viable claim if the appropriate steps towards correct management, support and potential reasonable adjustments have commenced.

Specific employment issues

Absence

Long Covid symptoms may well lead to continuous long-term absence for some employees, and/or intermittent absences of shorter duration. It will depend upon the symptoms and how they manifest in each employee.

In either case, it is important to maintain a level of support for employees and to avoid treating them as if they are malingering. Whilst long Covid is an incredibly new medical phenomenon, managers should seek to avoid impatience, scepticism and resentment so as to reduce or avoid potential employment law claims.

Impact on performance

Frequent absences from work, or symptoms whilst at work (such as the ‘brain fog’ mentioned above or stress and anxiety) can have a detrimental impact on performance. Employees suffering with long Covid may no longer be able to achieve what they did previously. Employers may need to adjust their approach and to allow for the impact of long Covid on the performance of an employee such that the management performance process is adapted. This is certainly advisable when it is unclear as to whether their health condition amounts to disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010.

Medical advice

As with any employee illness, medical evidence should be sought in relation to cases of long Covid. This will help with performance-related matters, as well as absence. Whilst a definitive diagnosis and advice may not always be possible because of the fluctuating symptoms, occupational health providers will usually be better placed than the employer to establish the employee’s ability to return to work or to continue in their current role, sometimes with the assistance of some suggested adjustments.

Golf club employers should think carefully about questions that they ask of the occupational health specialist to answer, make sure that the occupational health specialist understands the demands of the particular role and give proper consideration to the occupational health report.
In circumstances where the condition amounts to disability, employers may find themselves legally obliged to consider reasonable adjustments and obtaining an objective medical opinion is an important step to take. This will provide an opportunity to ask specific practical questions such as whether the employee is still able to cope with the stress and demands of the role.

Developing a long Covid management strategy

The potential fallout of long Covid is likely to affect employees for some time to come. Implementing a long Covid management strategy will help employers show their commitment to a supportive workplace culture. Factors to address might include:

• How best to manage short-term absences

• How and when to initiate conversations with employees

• Relevant medical advice

• Sick pay entitlements

• Potential adjustments to be considered on a case-by-case basis

• The impact of any permanent health insurance policy.

Line managers should be trained and offered guidance on how to implement the strategy, ensuring that team members feel able to discuss the long Covid difficulties to stand the best chance of successfully returning to work.

For any further advice in relation to this matter, please contact Alistair Smith at the (National Golf Clubs Advisory Association) NGCAA on alistair@ngcaa.co.uk or 01886 812943

 

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick May 19, 2022 12:00
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