Long Covid is a term used to describe symptoms persisting for four weeks or more following COVID-19. The Office for National Statistics estimates that 1 in 5 people have symptoms after five weeks, and 1 in 10 have symptoms for twelve weeks or longer. 

Symptoms can be prolonged, debilitating, fluctuating and diverse, affecting anywhere in the body. In addition to wide-ranging physical symptoms, cognitive impairment is a common issue, affecting concentration, memory and other aspects. A relapsing and remitting pattern is typical, as is the case in other chronic illnesses such as autoimmune conditions. Someone may feel symptom-free for several weeks before relapsing. Post-exertional malaise, triggering relapses or symptom flares, is widespread among people with Long Covid, even many months after symptom onset. Triggers can include physical and cognitive exertion, as well as stress.

Not everyone with Long Covid has a confirmed diagnosis from a positive PCR or antibody test. As outlined in the NICE clinical guideline, this does not mean they do not have the condition, but they may face disbelief from medical professionals and therefore struggle to be officially diagnosed and have the condition specified on fit notes.

Resources

The Society of Occupational Medicine has produced a return to work guide for managers. This series of 4 videos includes one focused on advice for managers.

To support a return to work for employees with Long Covid, it may be helpful to seek occupational health advice from an in-house service or external agency.

Employers may also be interested to read this blog, written to accompany the Society of Occupational Medicine’s Perspectives on Long COVID and work - Online Summit.

The CIPD’s website includes Coronavirus: protecting your workforce FAQs for employers addressing Long Covid. 

This paper by Vink and Vink-Neise may be helpful in understanding how to support people living with Long Covid as there is some symptom overlap between Long Covid and other chronic illnesses.

The NICE guideline Workplace health: long-term sickness absence and capability to work  covers how to help people return to work after long-term sickness absence, reduce recurring sickness absence, and help prevent people moving from short-term to long-term sickness absence. 

The Equality Act 2010 places a duty on employers to provide reasonable adjustments for employees with protected characteristics, including disability. To qualify as a disability under the Equality Act a health condition must affect day-to-day functioning and have lasted, or be likely to last, for 1 year or longer. Employers should assume that some employees may be protected by the Equality Act disability definition. It is important to review reasonable adjustments regularly.