Two years since the start of the pandemic, the UK has seen numerous covid recoveries – allowing previously affected individuals to resume their daily activities. Unfortunately for some, covid has more lasting effects on their physical health – known as “long covid”. Long covid is widely known as the prolonged symptoms of Covid-19 beyond the initial illness or infection.
According to the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) in June 2022, around 2 million people or 3% of the UK population self-reported long covid symptoms. These high numbers show that long covid is an issue in need of addressing, especially for workers who may be impacted by it.
Employers should pay attention and provide reasonable adjustments and support for workers who may suffer from long covid. Older employees are shown to have a higher risk of long covid affecting their employment status and work life, with more chances of inactivity.
Long covid, as described by the NHS, is the condition where individuals who were infected by the coronavirus still experience symptoms beyond the usual time of recovery. Typically, a full recovery from covid happens within 12 weeks. However, people with long covid still experience symptoms for much longer, possibly weeks or months.
Symptoms of long covid include:
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of smell
- Muscle aches
- “Brain fog”
- Chest pain
The amount of time needed for recovery varies, with no average time frame reported. It is also known that having long covid does not relate to how ill an individual was when they contracted the coronavirus. Even with experiencing mild symptoms, there is a chance for long covid. As this affects the daily lives of many individuals, discussions on how workplaces can accommodate employees with long covid are needed.
Older Employees at Risk
Within the ONS report in 2022, the link between self-reported long covid and inactivity (excluding retirement) was highest for people between the ages of 50 to 64 years old – with an increase of 71.2% of inactivity among people in this age group with long covid. Long-term absences due to long covid were also shown to be the strongest in this age group, with a 103.4% increase compared to pre-infection. Overall, this report has shown that long covid has contributed to the decreasing levels of participation in the UK labour market – particularly among older employees.
What Employers Can Do
As this is a crucial issue to be addressed, employers should provide adequate support to ensure their employees’ health and well-being – particularly those who are more vulnerable than others.
It is recommended for employers to be open to conversations with their employees, particularly of the older age group, about their health and capacity to do work. Within these conversations, ways to support and allocate work can be discussed to suit the needs of everyone involved. This can include:
- An occupational health assessment
- Changes to working hours or mode of working
- Phasing returns to work
- Reorganising work allocation