With Plan B measures now a distant past and self-isolation periods shortening (and potentially soon ending altogether), employees might feel pressured to return to work sooner than they feel comfortable to due to workplace pressures regarding staff shortages across the country.
Below, we have outlined what rights employees have when it comes to returning to work after contracting Covid-19.
While Plan B measures were put in place to combat the spread of the Omicron variant, several industries across England experienced staff shortages due to Covid-related absences.
While the end of these restrictions is seen by many as a positive step towards ‘normality’, your employer should be cautious in how they communicate with those who have recently contracted Covid-19 who are still feeling unwell and potentially not ready to return to work.
I’ve been off work with Covid-19 but am now getting negative test results. My employer’s pressuring me to return to work but I still feel unwell, do I have to go back?
For a large number of people who contract Covid-19, it’s likely that they’ll have symptoms lasting days, weeks or even months after the infection, which is referred to as ‘post-Covid-19 syndrome’ or ‘long-Covid’. These symptoms include:
- Extreme fatigue;
- Chest pain or tightness;
- ‘Brain fog’;
- Joint pain;
- Change to sense of taste or smell; or,
- Depression and anxiety.
If you’re suffering from these longer-term effects, you may find that it impacts your ability to work, causing you to want to take further sickness absence in addition to any previous absence due to initially contracting Covid-19. While your employer may be eager for you to return due to a shortage of staff, pressure should not be placed on you to work if you are still sick, and you should be allowed to take sickness absence. The standard rules for sickness absence and sick pay apply when someone is off work as a result of long-Covid.
Your employer should also be mindful that the physical effects of long-Covid can fluctuate and talk to you about the best way they can support your return to work. For example, a phased return or change of working hours could be implemented if needed.
It’s crucial that your employer takes care not to discriminate against anyone when considering the long-term effects caused by Covid-19, due to the fact that long-Covid has been found to impact the elderly, ethnic minorities and women more severely.
I’m suffering from long-Covid, can I work from home instead of going into the workplace?
The first questions your employer should ask you if you are still suffering from Covid symptoms are:
How do you feel and how they can support you in your return to work?
Additionally, reasonable adjustments should be considered, such as flexible working, reduced hours, taking longer breaks or working from home, where the remit of your role allows, as well as a reduction in workload or the physical demands that may be associated with your role.
Is long-Covid a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010?
The Equality Act 2010 offers protection, for those in employment, against discrimination and other prohibited conduct on the basis of a protected characteristic, the most relevant to long-Covid being disability.
Legally, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on an individual’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
In 2021, the Trade Union Congress called for long-Covid to be recognised as a ‘deemed disability’ so that those suffering from it would be automatically protected, meaning there’d be no need for an Employment Tribunal in the event of a claim being brought. However, this proposal hasn’t been taken any further.
Based on the symptoms of long-Covid, and how varied they can be, it’s entirely possible for these to amount to physical or mental impairment in employment law terms.
There’s no doubting that many will be welcoming the potential ending of all Covid-restrictions and looking forward to a return to normality. However, employers need to continue to exercise caution, now more than ever and approach prolonged periods of Covid-19 absence with an open mind.
How Nelsons can help
For further information on the subjects discussed in this article or any related topics, please contact Laura or another member of the team in Derby, Leicester or Nottingham on 0800 024 1976 or via our online form.Contact us