Is long Covid a disability?
Jun 24, 2022
A recent social media post by the Equality and Human Rights Commission will have raised some eyebrows. The organisation tweeted:
“Discussions continue on whether ‘long Covid’ symptoms constitute a disability. Without case law or scientific consensus, EHRC does not recommend that ‘long covid’ be treated as a disability...”
Concerns were raised about the impression the post may have given to employers dealing with some of the estimated 1.7m long-Covid sufferers in the UK. The EHRC issued a clarification which set out that long Covid will amount to a disability if it meets the legal definition. In other words, it has a substantial, long-term, adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
This has always been a tricky assessment for employers to make. While certain conditions, such as cancer, are automatically classed as disabilities, there is a whole raft of other physical and mental impairments (like long Covid) that may or may not qualify as a disability for employment law purposes. An individual assessment is essential in determining the condition and its effect; what amounts to a disability in some circumstances may not in others. Context is everything.
Employers will want to know if an employee is classed as disabled because of the legal protections and obligations that come with that. A disabled employee has the right not to be treated less favourably or put at a disadvantage for a reason relating to their disability. One way of discriminating that often catches employers out is failing to make reasonable adjustments to prevent the disabled employee from being at a substantial disadvantage at work. That duty can only be fulfilled if the employer really understands the employee’s condition and how it affects him or her – something that extends beyond the ‘disabled’ label.
So employers need to be wise to the issues and to the particular circumstances that are in play, as long Covid may present itself in different ways and may have different effects on sufferers.
But we’re always keen to impress upon employers that a belief, or official confirmation, that someone isn’t disabled doesn’t mean the employer may turn a blind eye to difficulties the employee may be having. Efforts should still be put into making the workplace an accessible, inclusive and fulfilling place for that person. There are moral, as well as legal, duties around equality and diversity, and all employers should want to treat their employees fairly. So, whether a person’s long Covid is a disability or not, they should find their employer making all reasonable efforts to accommodate them at work.
To speak to us about disability in the workplace, or any other employment issue, contact us on 01264 353411 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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