Returning to work after Long Covid
Covid-19 is still a new illness, even though we’ve lived with the pandemic for nearly two years. Although more reliable data is being
published all the time, much is still unknown about the long-term impacts of Covid infection on health.
Some people recovering from Covid-19 still experience symptoms months after infection. It can be debilitating and can have a profound impact on ability to work.
Rehabilitation from Long Covid
Rehabilitation following ill health can be huge problem for HR professionals. It comes with employment risks and insurance risks. There are lots of costs involved, such as paying for temporary cover, re-allocating work across a team and or managing reduced performance levels.
Return to work programmes can be complex and differ for each individual. However, there are some areas which are common to many rehabilitation plans. We published tips to support returning to work following Covid in August 2020, which are
still valid today:
- A gradual approach is needed – there is no single proven ‘expected recovery pattern’
- Identifying ‘baseline’ activity levels is crucial – understanding what can be done for 5 to 7 days without any relapse is the first
- Employees are likely to need shorter activities and longer rest periods – the aim is to invert the two over time
- Avoiding ‘boom to bust’ is essential – a good day doesn’t mean an employee is over COVID-19 – stopping employees from overloading on work as they come back will help them more in the long-run
- Develop a routine – helping the employee to structure their work around an agreed routine will help both parties
- Encouraging employees to keep an activity diary will help you and your occupational health advisors understand what is and isn’t working – which will help to improve the long-term success of the plan
Covid return to work guide
The Society of Occupational Medicine has just published a Covid return to work guide for managers. It also contains lots of tips
and guidance for managers. The guide shows that:
- one in five people have symptoms after four weeks, and one in ten have symptoms for 12 weeks or longer. For some, symptoms may last many months
- symptoms can be unpredictable and fluctuate over time
- common symptoms include extreme fatigue, breathlessness, muscle and joint pain, chest pain and mental health problems, among others
- most workers with ongoing symptoms will need workplace accommodation, but some may not
The guide also includes five key steps for managers to ensure they support employees and do not fall foul of the law:
- Stay in touch while the worker is absent from work
- Prepare for the worker’s return
- Hold a return to work conversation
- Provide support during the early days of the return to work
- Provide ongoing support and review regularly
Is Long Covid a disability?
The decision as to whether a condition is a disability is a legal one. It can only be made by a Court, rather than medical professionals. However, occupational health professionals can advise whether a condition is a disability, is likely to be one, may be one, or may not be one.
That advice fulfils an employers’ obligations in law to seek appropriate advice and consider it, before making decisions about employees with health conditions.
Generally, a condition must impact on the daily qualities of life and be long-term in nature to meet the threshold of being a disability. Long Covid may meet the threshold in some individual cases.
The main message for managers
The unpredictable and fluctuating nature of Long Covid means that some workers may need to return gradually – building up work capacity steadily and slowly.
Good communication between all stakeholders is essential and patience may be required too. As with many conditions, employees may have good and bad days as they recover. They may relapse, sometimes when they are well into a recovery.
Understanding of the condition is still developing and much is still uncertain. Guidance from occupational health professionals will
continue to be updated as more is discovered.
Occupational Health Assessment Ltd provides rapid access to expert occupational health support for businesses across the United Kingdom. Appointments are available within two days.
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