ACAS have recently published advice for employers and employees on long COVID.
Anyone hoping for detailed guidance about how to manage employees suffering from a myriad of post viral symptoms will be disappointed. Instead, ACAS signposts some of the issues employers are likely to encounter once staff recover from the initial stages of the infection. It includes brief paragraphs on dealing with sickness absence, keeping in touch with staff and making adjustments to their work or hours.
It skirts around the issue of whether long COVID symptoms can be sufficient to meet the statutory definition of disability (our view is that they can - you can read why here) and instead recommends that employers 'focus on reasonable adjustments rather than trying to work out if an employee's condition is a disability'.
That's probably sensible advice because even if the employee is not disabled, you'll be expected to have explored ways to try and make the situation work before taking any form of action against them. If decide to dismiss them (on grounds of incapacity) without doing this, they'll be able to bring a claim for unfair dismissal if they have two years' service.
The advice also acknowledges that the debilitating effects of long COVID may mean that someone is fit for work one day and ill the next. What it doesn't say is that this sort of absence is the most difficult for most employers to respond to. It's also why, in reality, you will need to have a good idea about whether an employee's symptoms amount to a disability before deciding to terminate their employment.
We believe that you might need to take a different approach to reintegrate your employees back to work if they have had COVID and are still feeling slightly unwell. Many people have unrealistic expectations about recovery from an acute illness and return to their usual hours too quickly. And, there's emerging evidence that over-exertion is associated with the relapse of long COVID symptoms. Guidelines by NICE recommend that people pace themselves, especially between acute COVID (up to four weeks) and long COVID (week 12 onwards).
It's particularly important to have a thorough return to work interview with anyone who has had COVID to find out how they are feeling generally, whether they have any on-going symptoms and to discuss whether it's sensible for them to return to their usual duties straight away and what support you can provide whilst they get back to fitness.
Our Coronavirus updates
We're working hard to keep you up to date with legal developments around Coronavirus. We've set up a portal which includes lots of helpful articles and advice to help you.