Posted on November 9th, 2021

Long COVID is the term used to describe the long-lasting effects of COVID-19 that continue for weeks or months. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines long COVID as the ‘Post COVID-19 condition that occurs in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed SARS CoV-2 infection, usually three months from the onset of COVID-19 with symptoms and that last for at least two months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis’.

Following research into long COVID, two main groups of symptoms have been identified:

  • Mainly respiratory, but including fatigue and headaches.
  • Symptoms affecting many parts of the body, including the heart, brain and the gut.

Symptoms can also change, with new symptoms developing over time. Researchers have also discovered that older people, women, and those who had five or more symptoms in the first week of becoming ill with COVID-19 were more likely to develop long COVID. Having two doses of the vaccine halves the risk of developing long COVID.

Sickness absence

Long COVID could affect an employee’s ability to work. Symptoms of long COVID can come and go and may result in intermittent sickness absence or ongoing long term sickness absence. Long COVID is a new illness and research is still taking place.

Disability discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination against a disabled person. Disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial and long term’ negative effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Long-term means it has lasted or will last for at least 12 months.

Long COVID could therefore be defined as a disability.

Managing absence

It is important that all cases of diagnosed or suspected long COVID are treated sensitively. Schools should ensure the following takes place:

  • The sickness absence management policy is followed.
  • Contact arrangements are agreed while the employee is off sick.
  • The employee is kept up-to-date with any changes at work.
  • Meetings are held with the employee to discuss likely return to work.
  • The employee is supported in a return to work.
  • Occupational health referrals are made where necessary.
  • Reasonable adjustments are considered, such as a phased return or any equipment required by the employee.
  • Temporary or permanent contract arrangements are considered, such as part-time working hours.
  • Alternative employment is considered in the event the employee is unable to return to their role.

Teacher sick pay enhancements

Teachers may have contractual sick pay enhancements in circumstances where an infectious disease is contracted in the workplace. Given the difficulties in establishing where an employee may have contracted COVID-19, such enhancement is unlikely to apply in cases of long COVID. A doctor would be required to certify that COVID-19 was contracted within the school.

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