The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has urgently called on the Government to recognise long-COVID as a disability in order to avoid discrimination claims.
New research by the TUC urges the Government to classify long Covid as a disability and Covid-19 as an occupational disease under the Equality Act.
According to this act, a disability is defined as 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”. Guidance released by the Government defines “long-term” as 12 months or more.
A poll by the union body showed that almost a third of respondents with long-COVID (29 per cent) have experienced symptoms which have lasted longer than a year.
Additionally, the overwhelming majority (95 per cent) have been left with ongoing symptoms including brain fog (72 per cent), shortness of breath (70 per cent), difficulty concentrating (62 per cent) and memory problems (54 per cent).
Of this group, over half (52 per cent) had experienced some form of discrimination or disadvantage due to their condition.
This included one in five workers being questioned about the impact of their symptoms, one in eight being asked if they even had long-COVID at all. A further five per cent of workers were forced out of their job altogether due to this condition.
Respondents were also concerned about what the future might hold for them at work given the amount of sick leave they had been forced to take.
Around one in six (18 per cent) said the amount of sick leave they had taken had triggered absence management or HR processes.
As such, the TUC states that workers who are suffering from long-COVID should be protected under the law as opposed to having to go through employment tribunals.
Extending Equality Act 2010 protections so they cover workers with long COVID would ensure employers cannot legally discriminate against them, the body states.
This would also put a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments that remove, reduce or prevent any disadvantages workers with long COVID face, as for any other enduring condition or disability.
In addition, the union body is calling on ministers to recognise Covid-19 as an occupational disease – entitling employees and their dependents to protection and compensation if they contracted the virus while working.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
Long Covid must be recognised as a disability. That would mean workers are protected by the Equality Act, and would have a right to get reasonable adjustments at work.
And Covid-19 should be designated as an occupational disease. That would allow workers who contracted Covid-19 at work and are living with the consequences to claim the compensation they are due.
Employers must also act. They should make sure they make reasonable adjustments for workers with long Covid, and complete specific risk assessments to make sure workers with long Covid are safe at work.
Furthermore, Lesley Macniven, Chair of the Long Covid Employment Support Group, who worked with the TUC on its report, said:
Even those with ‘mild’ Covid can suffer daily with fluctuating symptoms, exhausted and alone. Promises we’ll ‘just get better’ have been proved otherwise.
A year on we need legally enforceable guidance for employers and government – informed by unions, occupational health and patient groups with significant lived experience managing long Covid.
*This research has been obtained from the TUC’s report ‘Workers’ experience of long Covid’.