UK ministers should act to ensure long-term Covid sufferers get the support they need from employers, with up to two-thirds saying they have been treated unfairly at work, a report argues.
The report, from the TUC and the charity Long Covid Support, warns that if the 2 million people who, according to ONS data, may be suffering from long-term Covid in the UK it will create “new and lasting inequalities”.
The analysis is based on responses from more than 3,000 long-term Covid patients who agreed to share their experiences.
Two-thirds said they had experienced some form of unfair treatment at work, ranging from bullying to disbelief at their symptoms to the threat of disciplinary action. One in seven said that he had lost his job.
The report, published on Monday, makes a number of recommendations, including urging the government to designate long Covid as a disability for the purposes of the 2010 Equality Act, to make clear that patients are entitled to “reasonable accommodation ” at work; and to classify Covid-19 as an occupational disease to allow people who contracted it through their work to seek compensation.
Long Covid is an umbrella term for a wide range of symptoms experienced by some people after contracting Covid-19, which can include chronic fatigue, brain fog and shortness of breath, and can last for months or even years.
Paul Nowak, the tuc Secretary General, said: “Workers with prolonged Covid have been very disappointed. Many of these are the key workers who got us through the pandemic; however, some are now being forced to quit their jobs.
“Ministers must ensure that all workers with prolonged Covid have the legal right to reasonable accommodation at work so that they can remain in their jobs.”
The report argues that such accommodations could include flexible working, disability leave, and a gradual return to the workplace.
The definition of disability under the Equality Act is “a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”, defined as lasting or likely to past, more than a year.
The condition of many long-term covid sufferers might already meet that definition, but the report argues that the challenges they face getting support at work mean clear government guidance is needed.
Nearly a quarter of those who responded to the survey (23%) said their employer had questioned whether they had Covid for a long time or the impact of their symptoms.
Lesley Macniven, Founding Member of Long Covid Support, said: “Long Covid is devastating the health of a significant percentage of our workforce and urgently requires a more strategic response.
“Those still struggling to stay on the job face discrimination and a lack of understanding. If action is not taken around the retention of these workers, especially in sectors facing skills shortages, the numbers and costs will continue to rise as they reluctantly leave the workforce.”
Half of the long-term Covid-19 sufferers who responded to the survey said they believed they had originally contracted Covid-19 in the workplace.
The Industrial Injury Advisory Council (IIAC) recommended last november that health and social service workers should be entitled to claim disability benefits for work injuries, for specific complications of Covid-19, such as pulmonary fibrosis or stroke.
The report calls on the government to adopt that recommendation, but also to designate Covid-19 as an occupational disease for sufferers in any sector.
“This would entitle more frontline workers to protection and compensation if they contracted the virus while on the job and would be essential for people who have lost income and work as a result of long covid,” the report argues.
A government spokesman said: “The Equality Act clearly defines disability as a long-term or substantial physical or mental impairment that has a negative effect on an individual’s ability to carry out normal daily activities.
‘This would capture long Covid, on a case-by-case basis, if an individual is affected in this way. Therefore, there is no plan to update the law to list all illnesses or disabilities that may be covered.”