ACAS guidance on long Covid

5 min read

Tuesday 11 May 21

With the easing of the national lockdown and the vaccination programme in full swing, more employees are starting to slowly return back to their places of work. Yet, with over one million people reporting symptoms of long Covid, it can be challenging for employers to know exactly how to execute their return to normality.

ACAS have published guidance on this and here at Farillio, we’ve distilled the key bits of information and gathered the resources so you can equip your business to deal with this new challenge.

Read the full ACAS guidance here

What is long Covid?

‘Long Covid’ relates to the longer term symptoms that some people experience after having contracted Covid-19. Covid-19 symptoms and recovery aren’t a one size fits all situation.

As an employer, you should remember:

  1. Recovery times from Covid-19 differ hugely; one employee might only need a few days to feel better, whilst others might take months.

  2. There is no correlation between how unwell people get from Covid, and experiencing long Covid. Even people who were only mildly unwell can suffer from long covid symptoms.

  3. Recovery from Covid (and long Covid) is not linear, there are good days and bad days.

Symptoms of long Covid can include intense fatigue, insomnia, chest pain and shortness of breath as well as problems with concentration, depression and anxiety. There’s a longer list on the NHS website which can be found here

Public Health England have provided further information and resources on long Covid which can be found here

The NHS also has a great resource called Your Covid Recovery which employers may wish to direct employees to. It gives great advice on how to manage long Covid and understand the symptoms better.

Top tips for employers handling employees with long Covid

  1. Have open discussions with the employee on how and when they can be contacted for work-related matters
  2. Support the employee as they return to work – adjusted work hours might be a good idea
  3. Consider offering them a phased return to work if your business needs allow
  4. Consider getting an occupational health assessment
  5. Be sure to follow normal company rules and policies surrounding absence and sick pay should be followed
  6. Educate managers about the effects of long Covid on the team and how to spot the signs to identify if an employee is unwell and needs additional support

Does long Covid constitute a disability?

A ‘legal’ disability is physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative affect on a person’s capacity to carry out day-to-day activities.

How long is long term?

  1. It must have lasted or will last for 12 months at a minimum

  2. Will likely last for a person’s whole life or can come and go intermittently

Covid is still relatively new and we don’t know everything so employers shouldn’t get bogged down trying to work out whether it’s a disability in the legal sense. Instead, employers should do their best to support the employee as best they can by implementing reasonable adjustments.

The Equality Act 2010

In more serious cases, the employee might be protected under the Equality Act 2010 if their symptoms do constitute a disability. Employers should be wary of discrimination claims.

This is especially so as long Covid has been found to disproportionately affect older people, ethnic minorities and women thereby triggering protected characteristics and further scope for discrimination claims.

Employers could also face unfair dismissal claims if an employee is dismissed without a fair capability or disciplinary procedure. In any case, it’s good practice for an employer to try other alternatives before commencing any official procedures.

If you do decide to initiate a capability or poor performance procedure as a result of an employee being off sick or a drop in the quality of their work owing to long covid, we'd suggest you obtain legal advice to ensure that you are not liable under discrimination law.

NB: Employers have a legal duty to implement reasonable adjustments if required.

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While we can connect you with some very fine advisers in the UK, and we collaborate with them to provide you with great materials, Farillio itself is not a law firm. We do not directly provide legal advice ourselves. All resources are available for you to use (according to our terms and conditions), but those resources are not legal advice to you and neither are they a substitute for you taking legal advice from a lawyer.