As if Matt Hancock’s wife didn’t have enough to cope with at the moment, it is reported that she is suffering from long Covid. Long Covid is one of those expressions that meant nothing 18 months ago but has now entered our language for all the wrong reasons.
Many people who have contracted Covid have experienced symptoms lasting longer than a year. Symptoms are wide ranging and include extreme tiredness, shortness of breath, problems with memory and concentration, tinnitus, joint pain, depression and anxiety.
Facing the prospect of battling these symptoms for years is bad enough, but how will it effect your working life? How can you function at your best when you have brain fog, aches and pains and insomnia?
There’s a real risk that people will lose their jobs as a result of frequent absences or poor performance and this is backed up by a recent study by the TUC. Of the 3,500 workers surveyed, 52% had experienced some form of discrimination or disadvantage due to long Covid symptoms, 13% faced questions from their employer about whether they had long Covid at all and 5% said they had been forced out of their jobs.
This is why the TUC is calling for long Covid to be recognised as a disability under the Equality Act, so that workers will have access to legal protections and compensation. Proving you are disabled is a complicated process, often involving medical evidence and an employment tribunal hearing. Workers have to prove that they have a “physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term (over 12 months) adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”. As you can imagine, lawyers have a field day with this definition and whole cases have focused on what is ‘substantial’ or what constitutes a ‘day to day’ activity. If long Covid was already recognised as a disability, workers would not have to go through the stress of proving this in an employment tribunal.
More importantly, it would give these workers extra protections. Employers would not be able to discriminate against them, for instance by dismissing them or refusing to promote them because they have long Covid. Employers would also be under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to remove, reduce or prevent any disadvantages faced by workers with long Covid.
The new Health Secretary has an unenviable to do list, but with long Covid likely to be part of our lives for the foreseeable future, he would do well to consider what can be done to protect workers with this debilitating condition.
Many people suffering from long Covid have a worse quality of life than patients with advanced lung cancer, according to the first major study to quantify the impact of the condition on people’s lives.