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How can Occupational Health be used in long Covid situations? 

While the pandemic is slipping further from many people’s minds, there are a significant number of people who are suffering from long-term impacts of Covid. In fact, figures from the Office of National Statistics show that around 1.4 million people in Britain reported having symptoms of Covid for at least 12 weeks, which is the point at which the infection is known as long Covid or post-COVID-19 syndrome. In a previous blog, we discussed some of the aspects of long Covid that employers need to consider and in this blog, we’re going to take a look at how occupational health can help employers when managing long Covid situations. 

As you may have read in a previous blog, Occupational Health (OH) is used specifically for the workplace, looking at the physical and mental well-being of employees. Doctors working in OH have specialist training to enable them to act as advisers to the employer and employee on the relationship between work and health. Due to this, their insight in cases of long Covid can be highly beneficial, particularly given that symptoms of long Covid can vary greatly both in terms of the type of symptoms experienced and also whether the symptoms come and go or stay consistent.   

An OH specialist can advise an employer on how they can best support an individual with long Covid.  This may mean that they advise the employer that the individual is unfit to return to work and that they should remain on sick leave with regular check-ins. It may be that the individual can return to work but on a phased return, perhaps doing a less physically or cognitively demanding role, or working reduced hours. An OH can also advise an employer on the symptoms of long Covid and how it can impact an individual’s work performance. 

This year has seen the first tribunal decisions where a tribunal judge has determined that long Covid can count as a disability, and this increases the importance of employers taking specialist advice when managing an employee with long Covid. The Equality Act 2010 determined that employers are required to make reasonable adjustments for employees with a disability so that they are not unfairly disadvantaged compared to colleagues who do not have a disability. As such, there may be a legal requirement for the employer to make reasonable adjustments for an employee who has long Covid. An OH specialist will be able to suggest appropriate support measures and give an employer a better understanding of the impacts of Covid on the employee.  

In a case where an employee has been off sick for a long period of time, an occupational health referral can help the employer to better understand the current state of the employee’s health, and when they are likely to be able to return to work. Once the employee is fit enough to return, an OH specialist will be able to suggest a plan for their employee’s return, working with both the employer and employee to understand their needs. This will help the likelihood of the return being successful for all parties. 

Where medical records are involved, it’s important to remember that employers need to abide by the Access to Medical Records Act 1988 and also the Data Protection Act 2018 which states that medical information is a special category of data. An OH specialist can help with ensuring you meet the requirements set up when dealing with personal data. 

If you are an employer and would like to learn more about how to support employees suffering from long Covid, please contact ViewHR for an initial discussion.  We support clients with Occupational Health referrals on a day-to-day basis.  We can also work with any Occupational Health practitioner (subject to appropriate agreements) to ensure that both employee and employer are supported from an HR perspective.