Should Long Covid be recognised as a disability?

A teacher is calling for Long Covid to be classified as a disability after fearing that her job could become at risk if she needs more time off work.

Heather Jones, from Clifton, contracted Covid-19 in November 2020 but, four weeks after testing positive, she began to develop other symptoms including extreme fatigue and confusion.

At its height she often struggled to walk, and even forgot she had siblings or friends.

Heather was diagnosed with Long Covid and had six months away from the classroom.

She relapsed on her return - and fears more time off sick could mean disciplinary proceedings - and the end of her career.

She said: "My employer, because it is their legal duty, they had to point out that my job is at risk, and they made it very clear to me that if i'm ill again my job is at risk."

The school has been asked for comment but has so far not responded.

How is Long Covid affecting workers?

More than two million people have reported experiencing the symptoms of Long Covid - many of them frontline workers.

Currently, the usual laws around statutory sick leave apply when someone is off work because of Long Covid, and although employers are encouraged to support their staff, there are fears many are not.

A recent study by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that more than half of people currently living with Long Covid have faced discrimination at work because of their illness.

Many reported issues getting employers to take the condition seriously, and faced stigma from colleagues when they did return to work.

There are now calls for the condition to be classified as a disability.

The move would mean the illness would have a more automatic protection under Equality Act, giving people the legal right to reasonable adjustments at work, including flexible working, longer rest breaks, and specialist equipment.

Dismissal without these adjustments could be classed as discrimination.

The TUC say sick leave restrictions are piling the pressure on people trying to recover.

Lynn Collins, from the TUC North West, said: "80% of these people are key workers, and there's a really strong likelihood that they caught Covid on the frontline, looking after people in hospitals, or teaching our children in schools, so to treat the symptoms of Long Covid punitively for those who kept our society going through really difficult times is abhorrent."

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What is Long Covid?

Long COVID is used to describe symptoms that last for longer than 4 weeks after someone contracts COVID-19.

In many cases, these can be worse than the initial infection, and can include a wide range of debilitating symptoms.

The most common include:

  • brain fog

  • extreme fatigue

  • muscle pain

  • chest pains or tightness in the chest

  • palpitations

  • dizziness

  • a numb or stinging feeling in the limbs

New data suggests more than two million people in the UK may be suffering with these beyond 12 weeks.

What has the Government said?

A government spokesperson told ITV News that “as with any underlying health condition, employers should consider whether an employee with symptoms of long COVID should receive reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act."

They added, that to help people suffering the debilitating long-term effects of this virus, the NHS has opened more than 80 long Covid hubs across England.

Last week, the NHS published a £100 million plan to expand support, including £30 million to help GPs improve diagnosis and care for patients with long Covid.

I have Long Covid - What other support is available?

Dr Jenny Ceolta-Smith, from the Long Covid Support Group, says people with concerns about their work situation can find resources and guidance on their website - as well as ACAS and Citizens Advice.

She added "Unfortunately too many workers with Long Covid report that they feel unsupported in the workplace, and their communication with line managers can be challenging and stressful especially in getting across the fluctuating nature of Long Covid symptoms and the need for further periods of sickness absence."

"Employers may need to think creatively about how staff can be retained and this may well involve learning and doing things differently.

"Working from home can be a game changer between being able to work or not for someone with Long Covid."