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This article was published on July 6th, 2021
The TUC has called for long Covid to be recognised as a disability and an occupational disease so that workers can access legal protection and compensation. Their survey of more than 3500 workers, all of whom said they had contracted Covid-19, found that nearly a third have experienced symptoms for more than a year and 95 per cent have been left with ongoing symptoms. More than three quarters of those surveyed were key workers in either education, health or social care. They reported a range of responses when disclosing symptoms to employers, including questions about the impact of symptoms, queries about whether they had long Covid at all and 5% said they had been forced out of their jobs. The report asks the government to change the Equality Act 2010 to show that long Covid is deemed to be a disability (in the same way as cancer, for example).
This survey is unlikely to be representative of long Covid statistics in the wider population and so should be treated with caution. The TUC acknowledge that long Covid sufferers can already be protected if they are able to meet the normal test for disability – by showing that they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day to day activities. To be long-term, a condition must have lasted, or be likely to last, at least 12 months. Some long-term sufferers may well be able to meet this test, but others will not. There doesn’t need to be a change in the law in order for genuine long-term sufferers to be protected.
In relation to occupational disease, while Covid remains endemic in society at large, it will be almost impossible to establish that someone has contracted Covid from a workplace rather than the pub, a football match or a friend’s house. This will be the case even for key workers at the coal face in health settings. Covid isn’t an industrial disease like asbestosis or industrial deafness where physical conditions can be linked directly to workplace-specific triggers. Covid is everywhere, endemic, in a way other causes of industrial disease are not.
That doesn’t mean employers can be flippant about Covid. Cases are increasing despite vaccinations and even though the links to hospitalisation and death are weakened, it is in everyone’s interests to limit transmission as much as possible. Employers should continue to undertake Covid-19 risk assessments and ensure their workplaces comply with the relevant government rules and guidance. Employers should treat this in the same way as they treat anyone else who is ill or absent. Always look out for conditions which have lasted or are likely to last for more than 12 months, Covid or otherwise, as those cases will require particularly careful handling. Read the TUC report here.