The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in over 1.5 million cases of long COVID, most of whom experience flu-like symptoms such as fatigue and breathlessness. It has also been found that around 30% of people still suffer from symptoms up to three months after contracting COVID-19. This article will consider whether long COVID is deemed to be a disability under the Equality Act 2010.
What is Long COVID?
Long COVID is a condition that can cause sufferers to experience chronic fatigue for months or even years at a time. The symptoms of long COVID include:
The causes of long COVID are not well understood, but it’s thought to be associated with an immune system disorder. Long COVID can be passed on from one person to another through coughing, sneezing and close contact much like the origin virus. Although the duration of the condition varies from person-to-person, some people will recover within weeks or months, others may have it for years before finally overcoming it completely.
What is the Equality Act 2010?
The Equality Act 2010 is an act of law that came into force in October 2010. It consolidates all the main discrimination legislation in England, Scotland and Wales.
The Equality Act 2010 covers discrimination on the following grounds: age; disability; gender reassignment (meaning someone who is proposing to undergo, has undergone or is undergoing a process to change their sex); marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; sexual orientation.
There are various ways in which you can be discriminated against on these grounds: direct discrimination (for example, being refused a job because of your race); indirect discrimination (for example, having less favourable terms and conditions than other employees for no good reason); harassment based on any of these nine protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership status/pregnancy/maternity/race/religion or belief/sex/sexual orientation.
Is long COVID a disability?
The Equality Act 2010 states that a disability is a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial, long-term and adverse effect on day to day activities.
Long COVID may be regarded as both a physical and mental impairment as it can affect your mobility and stamina, making it harder to do things that other people take for granted such as running or walking up stairs. It can also have an impact on your memory and thinking skills, affecting how well you can pay attention in class or at work. The symptoms of long COVID – feeling tired or sleepy all the time; having difficulty concentrating; struggling to remember things – mean they can also cause distress so severe it affects your ability to function fully in everyday life.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), symptoms of long COVID affect the day-to-day living of 2.8% of the population outside of care homes. However, In response to this, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (ECHR) has published a statement to determine that long COVID does not constitute a disability under the Equality Act 2010. Nevertheless, long COVID may amount to a disability in individual cases depending on the facts and the usual statutory test.
How can employers support employees with long COVID?
Employers are advised to follow the guidance regarding reasonable adjustments and flexible working. Understanding the symptoms of long COVID can help you make adjustments and determine what needs to be done to make work easier. Make sure to create a culture of openness so that employees suffering with this condition can talk openly to you without feeling as though they will be discriminated against. Offering remote options could be one of the most helpful things to do if it’s possible as working from home can allow people to pace themselves which can hugely aid the recovery process.
Long COVID is not considered to be a disability under the Equality Act 2010 meaning that employers are not required to make reasonable adjustments for their employees who have been diagnosed with this condition. However, it is advised that employers voluntarily provide support for those affected by long COVID in order to make their jobs more manageable. Working with experienced recruiters like THE Agency recruitment can help make this process easier by getting advice from experts in their field.