TUC calls for long COVID to be recognised as a disability

Posted on July 9th, 2021

The TUC has called for long COVID to be recognised as a disability and COVID-19 as an occupational disease, in order to provide workers with access to legal protection and compensation.

A TUC report on the impact of long COVID reveals that, of those surveyed (3,500 people):

  • 29% have experienced symptoms lasting longer than a year.
  • 95% have been left with on-going symptoms.
  • Many experienced side effects, including:
    • Brain fog (72%).
    • Shortness of breath (70%).
    • Difficulty concentrating (62%).
    • Memory problems (54%).
  • 52% had experienced some form of discrimination or disadvantage due to their condition.

The report highlights how frontline workers have been disproportionately affected by long COVID with 79% of those who responded identifying themselves as key workers.

The TUC report states that over half of respondents surveyed said that they had experienced some form of discrimination or disadvantage due to their condition:

  • 19% said that their employer had questioned the impact of their symptoms.
  • 13% had been questioned by their employer about whether they had long COVID at all.
  • 5% said that they had been forced out of their jobs because they had long COVID.

The TUC is now calling for the government to recognise long COVID as a disability under the Equality Act 2010. The Equality Act defines disability as:

‘a physical or mental impairment … [that] has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on [their] ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’.

The guidance is that ‘long-term’ means at least 12 months. Therefore, the TUC says that many workers with long COVID already meet this criterion and should be protected under the law, rather than having to go through employment tribunals.

If workers with long COVID were covered under the Equality Act, it would ensure that employers cannot legally discriminate against them and would put a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments.

The TUC is also calling on the government to recognise COVID-19 as an occupational disease, which would entitle employees and their dependants to protection and compensation if they contracted the virus while working.

In June 2021, figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 376,000 people in the UK have reported symptoms of long COVID for at least a year after their initial infection.

The government has not yet responded to the TUC’s report, but a government spokesperson has said that employers should consider making reasonable adjustments for employees who have long COVID symptoms.

A link to the full TUC report can be found here.