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Long Covid – a disability?

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (“EHRC”) has recently warned employers to treat Long Covid as a disability in the context of the workplace so that they do not unwittingly breach the protections afforded to disabled employees. 

“Long Covid” is a term applied to those symptoms caused by COVID-19 which are suffered by an individual long after the initial infection has gone. Long Covid symptoms are various and include fatigue and problems with memory or concentration. These symptoms can affect an individual for weeks, or even months, after the infection has ended. 

As of December 2021, there were an estimated 1.2 million people in the UK suffering with Long Covid. 

Under the Equality Act 2010 (the “EA”), employees are protected from being discriminated against in the workplace on the basis of their disability.

In practice, this means that disabled employees must be treated no less favourably than able-bodied employees, be that through the employer’s direct conduct or a blanket workplace policy. Additionally, the EA places a duty on employers to make “reasonable adjustments” for disabled employees to remove or reduce a disadvantage they face whilst doing their job due to their disability. 

As the symptoms of Long Covid can vary from mild to severe, it is not clear whether all cases of Long Covid will fall into a disability classification.

Whilst this is an emerging area of law, with no real case law nor clear guidance from the Government as of yet, the EHRC has stated that all cases of Long Covid should be treated as an employee having a disability to avoid the risk of breaching the EA. 

This statement therefore brings employees suffering with Long Covid within the protections afforded by the EA and so employers must ensure those employees are not discriminated against on the basis of their Long Covid and make reasonable adjustments for Long Covid sufferers in the workplace.