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November 3, 2021

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Dealing with ‘long COVID’ – Advice for employers and employees 

‘Long COVID’, used to describe an individual experiencing COVID-19 symptoms for weeks or months after the initial infection, can disrupt someone’s ability to work or cause them to take sickness absence, employers should be aware of potential long-term effects on their workers. 

corona face maskThe usual rules for sickness absence and sick pay apply when someone is off work because of long COVID. 

Employers should be aware that the effects of long COVID can come and go. On some days the person might seem well, but on others their symptoms can be worse and they might need to be off work again. 

If someone is off sick, they might feel isolated or need support to return to work.

Employers should: 

  • Agree how and when to make contact during any absence 
  • Make sure their work is covered and shared out appropriately while they’re off 
  • Talk about ways to support them as they return to work where and when possible. 

NHS has released more information on the long-term effects of COVID-19.

Long COVID: scientists give recommendations on facilitating individuals to return to work

The HSE commissioned a study to consider the scientific evidence between long COVID and work.The study was completed with contributions from an international expert group including the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in the UK.

The researchers summarised the evidence on the impact of long COVID on work, the workplace, and return to work interventions in the published scientific literature to 8 March 2021.

This report aims to provide insight on the impact of long COVID on work and return to work. It is known that some people recovering from COVID-19 still experience symptoms weeks or even months after their infection, which can impact on their daily functioning, including their ability to work. The report summarises the evidence in the published scientific literature to 8 March 2021 on the impact of long COVID on work, the workplace and return to work interventions. It also reviews transferable evidence for other illnesses and interventions where symptoms are similar. The findings are as follows:

  • There is a lack of published research on the impact of long COVID on work and return to work due to the recency of the pandemic. This study identified only seven relevant published studies after screening 2,545 publications. There is a global need for large and long-term cohort studies with mixed methods (qualitative and quantitative) in order to better understand the long-term consequences of COVID-19.
  • Based on this limited evidence, the long COVID symptoms that seem to have the greatest impact on work and return to work are fatigue, cognitive dysfunction (such as difficulty concentrating and memory loss), and changes in taste and smell.
  • There is currently no agreed scientific definition of long COVID. We therefore suggest using the UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines to define long COVID.
  • Return to work for an individual with long COVID often needs involvement of several stakeholders: the recovering worker, employer, line manager, and health or occupational health professionals.
  • Established good practice for return to work for other illnesses with similar symptoms is that the primary goal should be progressive, adaptive, and appropriate return to work and support at work (job retention), as working is generally good for health.

The report is available here.

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