The TUC is calling for the government to recognise long Covid as a disability to prevent suffering employees being discriminated against at work.
The union’s survey of employees with long Covid found that respondents reported symptoms lasting over a year, while experiencing workplace discrimination as a result.
NICE defines long Covid as symptoms of coronavirus (Covid-19) that persevere beyond four weeks. The TUC wants long Covid recognised as a disability under the Equality Act. This would mean workers suffering from it would be protected against discrimination.
In addition, the TUC said the government should also recognise coronavirus as an occupational disease to give protection and compensation if employees catch it at work.
Symptoms lasting more than a year
After surveying 3,500 workers, 29% reported their symptoms from long Covid had lasted more than a year. Symptoms mentioned included shortness of breath, brain fog, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems.
More than half of the respondents said they’d experienced “discrimination or disadvantage” in some form due to their symptoms. This included employers questioning workers about their symptoms and doubting them having long Covid at all. 5% of respondents said employers had forced them out of their jobs due to long Covid.
Some employees surveyed also said they were worried about the amount of sick leave they’d had to take. 18% said the sick leave they’d needed to take “had triggered absence management or HR processes”.
One worker said they had caught coronavirus at work, and had had to work at an international event while suffering:
I was still expected to work long hours, handle stressful situations in impossible timeframes, find and fill in forms (which I struggled to do because of cognitive issues), and spend hours on Zoom calls when I struggled to talk and breathe, resulting in extreme chest pain, shortness of breath, exhaustion and severe symptom relapses.
More than three-quarters of the people who responded to the survey said they were key workers.
“Massive wave of discrimination”
The Equality Act 2010 defines disability as having a long-term impact impairing someone’s ability to carry out “normal day-to-day activities”.
The TUC argues many people who have had long Covid already meet this criteria. Recognising long Covid under the act would make it illegal to discriminate against sufferers. It would also require employers to make reasonable adjustments where required.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said:
Many of the workers who have carried us through the pandemic are now living with debilitating symptoms of long Covid. And we’re beginning to hear troubling stories of a massive wave of discrimination against people with long Covid.
It’s time to recognise this condition properly – and make sure workers who are living with long Covid get the support they need to do their jobs.
Long Covid is “disabling” workers
The Office for National Statistics (ONS), estimated that as of May 2021, one million people were suffering from long Covid symptoms. Within that, 376,000 people reported the symptoms after having coronavirus at least a year before.
The TUC worked with the Long Covid Employment Support Group to produce the report. Group chair Lesley Macniven 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. …
Patients need time to convalesce, then recuperate through a very gradual, flexible phased return to work, over months, to achieve a sustainable return.
Long Covid is disabling young, previously healthy workers. This key step is needed to take the effects of long Covid seriously, enable rehabilitation and protect dedicated workers from discrimination due to poor understanding of the condition.
The campaign for greater recognition of long Covid could further help raise awareness for people suffering with the similar post-viral fatigue syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, ME, and fibromyalgia.
Featured image via YouTube/The Guardian
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