Woman suffering from fatigue because of long Covid.

Long Covid – is it a disability?

With restrictions easing across the UK, the initial emergency of the Covid-19 pandemic may feel like it is over. However, many people continue to suffer from prolonged symptoms, known as ‘long Covid’. In fact, research suggests that more than 1.8 million people in the UK are suffering from long Covid over 4 weeks after a suspected Coronavirus infection. But what exactly is long Covid and does it count as a disability? Read this blog to find out more.

What is long Covid?

Most Coronavirus infections (and related symptoms) clear up within 4 weeks. When symptoms continue (or develop) after an infection, this is called ‘long Covid’. Long Covid may be referred to as:

  • ongoing symptomatic Covid – where symptoms continue for more than 4 weeks
  • post-Covid syndrome – where symptoms continue for more than 12 weeks and cannot be explained by another condition

While symptoms of long Covid vary, common symptoms include:

  • fatigue and dizziness
  • shortness of breath
  • brain fog (ie memory and concentration problems)
  • chest pain and/or tightness

For more information on long Covid and its symptoms, visit the NHS website.

What is a disability?

Under the Equality Act 2010, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability of an employee to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

A ‘substantial adverse effect’ is something that has more than a minor impact on someone’s life and how they can do certain things. A substantial adverse effect can fluctuate or change over time and/or may not happen all the time.

Being ‘long term’ means that it will either affect a person (or is likely to affect them) for at least 1 year or is likely to last for the rest of their life.

Is long Covid a disability?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer. There is no specific legislation stating that long Covid is a disability. However, in May 2022, in the case Burke v Turning Point Scotland, an employment tribunal in Scotland decided that an employee suffering from long Covid was disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act.

While this indicates that long Covid may be considered a disability under the Equality Act, this will still depend on the specifics of each individual situation. That being said, generally speaking, long Covid can be classed as a disability as long as a person’s symptoms meet the definition of a disability.

Speak to a medical professional (eg your GP) to determine whether you have long Covid.

What steps should I take?

Employers

Employers must make reasonable adjustments to take account of any disability (eg long Covid). These are any changes made to remove or reduce any disadvantages related to an employee’s disability when doing their job (or applying for a job). Reasonable adjustments can involve anything, including:

Employers must also ensure to avoid discrimination when considering long Covid. Not only must employers avoid disability discrimination (ie discrimination because of a disability), but also other types of discrimination (eg based on age or sex). This is especially important as research indicates that long Covid more severely affects women, elderly people and ethnic minorities. For more information, read Equal opportunities and discrimination

For more information on reasonable adjustments and disability discrimination, read Disability and reasonable adjustments.

Staff

If you are suffering from long Covid, speak to your employer about this. 

If you’re returning to work, discuss how your employer can support you. For example:

  • getting an occupational health assessment (ie a medical examination to advise your employer on your health and make recommendations on possible adjustments)
  • making changes to the workplace or to how you work (eg different working hours)
  • a phased return to work
  • making other reasonable adjustments so that you can work to the best of your ability

If you’re unable to work because of long Covid, you may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). If you do not qualify for SSP, you may be eligible for Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

 

For more information, see the Government’s guidance and do not hesitate to Ask a lawyer if you have any questions.

 

Rebecca Neumann
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