Please take a look at the linked documents on our main resources page and in particular the Society of Occupational Medicine Guides for employees and employers.
Prevention is Better Than Cure
SARS COV2 is a novel virus and we do not yet fully understand the impact of the disease it causes – COVID-19 – on the human body. As Long Covid advocates we believe that the best way currently available to us that will prevent Long Covid is to not get COVID-19.
Start with the aim of preventing COVID-19 infection in the workplace.
Continue using mitigations such as ventilation, hygiene, social distancing, reducing the amount and duration of contacts you have, mask and Personal Protective Equipment use where required.
Your employer should be risk assessing the environment and putting measures in place to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. This is particularly the case if you are clinically vulnerable and likely to develop severe COVID-19 disease.
Rest and Recovery
If you do get COVID-19 then you will have to isolate at home for a period of time – currently this is 10 days (Dec 21). It will be tempting to return to work and all of your usual activities after this period but use caution.
Rest and Recovery is your friend.
If you have ongoing troublesome symptoms you may need to take additional time off work.
If you feel recovered, still display caution as some people with Long Covid have made an intitial recovery and relapsed later. Make sure to take your rest breaks at work and focus on adequate sleep, nutrition and hydration. It would be wise not to restart or engage in strenous exercise immediately, at least until you are sure you have fully recovered, and after ruling out Post Exertional Symptom Exacerbation (PESE) or cardiac involvement if you have cardiac symptoms.
The concept of energy pacing is a useful one to consider and the general principles are about splitting tasks into time based chunks, matching the task you are doing to your energy levels and having regular rest breaks. Do this whilst you are off sick from work, and continue to do this as you return.
EXTENDED SICK LEAVE
Some employers, such as the NHS, have had extended sick leave or special leave arrangements in place for people with Long Covid whereby the usual managing attendance processes are not triggered by Long Covid related sickness absence. These arrangements are likely to be temporary and may be reviewed as we begin to know more about the prognosis of people with Long Covid.
THE GP FIT NOTE
Consider getting your GP to provide a Fit Note looking at amended hours, or duties if you feel well enough to do some work but not your full time/substantive role. Make sure your GP names Long Covid or Post Covid Condition/Syndrome on the fit note. Your GP should also arrange any medical investigations necessary and refer you to a Long Covid Clinic for review. Long Covid Work believe that comprehensive medical assessment is required to support a safe and sustained return to work. Your employer does not have to agree to the adjustments outlined, however we do know that the longer someone is away from the workplace the more difficult it is to return so where workplace contact can be maintained (after a period of intial recovery) this would represent good practice.
ALLIED HEALTH PROFESSIONAL HEALTH AT WORK REPORT
Allied Health Professionals such as Occupational Therapists and Physiotherapists can also complete the Health at Work Report to provide further guidance to your GP or your employer. This guidance to the workplace is advisory.
If your work has an Occupational Health department, or if they can source Occupational Health advice then do request a review if you have any ongoing symptoms that might affect your ability to do your usual work. Like the GP, an Occupational Health Physician, Nurse or Practitioner can give advice to your employer about adjustments to your duties that are needed to ensure you can safely return to work.
The Extended Phased Return
For people with Long Covid, who have been off work for a long time, Long Covid Work are advocating for an extended phased return.
Traditional phased returns to work are used for people who have time away from the workplace due to sickness but they usually work on the basis that someone will return to full time work over a period of 4 – 6 weeks generally increasing the amount of work they do each week over this time. This is based on the premise that you need time to readjust after having time away but that your recovery will follow a linear progression.
However, as Long Covid is an energy limiting and fluctuating illness, we have found that people need a much more gradual return than this. This is especially important if you have been off for a period of more than a few months, or you are experiencing ongoing fatigue. The goal of an extended phased return is to sustain any increase in work duties with no exacerbation of symptoms therby allowing you to balance general life, your health and work.
It is also common when someone is unable to return to their full time role to consider temporary or permanent redeployment however we would urge caution when considering this and ask employers to consider what aspects of your usual role you are able to do. This can be because the brain fog/cognitive challenges associated with Long Covid might make it harder to learn new skills and responsibilities.
You do not need to be 100% fit to return to work, however your employer should be open with you about the length of time they will support a phased return in order for you to feel you are at a suitable level of function to be able to meet the requirements they have of you during the phased return period. A phased return is considered a reasonable adjustment but it isn’t the only adjustment that can be made. Other adjustments can be made alongside it.
If you have had Long Covid for 12 months, or it looks likely that your Long Covid will go on for at least 12 months, and it is seriously impacting on your day to day function, you should meet the definition of being disabled under the Equality Act 2010. This means that your employer should consider reasonable adjustments to your role to support you to stay in work. This can be things like providing aids or equipment, allowing you to work from home, allowing you to adapt the way you do certain tasks or considering flexible and part time working options, or temporary redeployment to another role.
PERMANENT CHANGE OF TERMS/CONDITIONS OF EMPLOYMENT
Where reasonable adjustments have not succeeded in supporting a full return to your substantive post, you and your employer may negotiate a permanent change in the terms and conditions of your employment, such as a reduction in working hours, or permanent redeployment to another role in the organisation.
ILL HEALTH DISMISSAL
Alternatively, if all reasonable attempts to support you to remain at work have not succeeded and your work is impacting on your ability to maintain your health, your employer may consider ill health dismissal on the grounds that you aren’t capable to fulfil your role.
We would urge people with Long Covid to follow through the process for ill health dismissal rather than handing in their notice, as to do so may affect your ability to claim benefits if you are unable to find alternative employment.
ILL HEALTH RETIREMENT
For workers who are near to retirement age ill health retirement may be an option to consider, however as we currently do not fully understand the prognosis of Long Covid this decision may not be made readily.
For people who have exhausted sick leave, phased returns, special leave or annual leave and have still not been able to return to their substantive post, some employers may consider an unpaid sabbatical, whereby they keep your job open for. a set period (whilst backfilling it), giving you time to focus on rest, recovery and rehabilitation.
Services to Support YOU
Access to Work is a governmental scheme that people with disabilities can access to help with the additional costs at work associated with having a disability or health condition. Some of the support they may be able to offer are things like taxis to work if you can’t drive or experience fatigue when driving, adaptations to your computer, mental health support, occupational psychology input, and more.
If you are in a work role that is covered by Union membership it is worth contacting your Union representative early on in the process when discussing a return to work. Union reps are there to ensure that the employers’ own policies and procedures are being followed. If you don’t already belong to a union you can join one but be aware there is usually a qualifying period of membership before you can access support from a workplace representative, although you should still be able to get general guidance. If you don’t belong to a union you can ask a trusted colleague to attend meetings with you and your employer for additional support.
The Advisory, Concilliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) is an independent body that can support you in cases where you are in conflict with your employer. Usually you will have had to have first used the employer’s standard grievance process to address any concerns you have. For any claims of disability discrimination, unfair or constructive dismissal you need to contact ACAS to express your intention to submit a claim to the Employment Tribunal within 3 months, less one day of the last incident.