In total, the UK has had 4.2 million positive cases of COVID-19 since March 2020, and it’s estimated that 20 percent of those have suffered with long COVID. The workplace can present a moderate risk for contraction of the illness, leading to some employees attempting to seek compensation from employers for potentially catching the virus at work.
With MPs increasing the pressure on ministers to recognise long COVID as an occupational disease, claims for compensation could become more common in the near future. So, what do employers need to know and how should they face these claims?
What is an occupational illness?
When employees are exposed to long-term hazards or strenuous workplace activities, they may develop chronic ailments. Although occupational illnesses can be hard to pinpoint due to unclear cause and effect and latency issues, employers have a duty to protect employees from any hazardous activities.
What proof needs to be shown?
As with any other illness, employees may be able to demonstrate that they have long COVID with a doctor’s note, where such a condition is stated. Medical records and treatment plans can also be used, however there is no legal requirement to provide this level of detail to employers.
A more in-depth medical report can be requested by an employer, should they wish to have further clarity and to fully understand the condition, prognosis and any adjustments required.
Can compensation be claimed?
For those suffering with long COVID, it will often be difficult to prove that the virus was picked up at the workplace, with causation proving a major barrier to compensation claims. Therefore, employees may not have an automatic right to claim compensation.
Nevertheless, employers shouldn’t dismiss any requests for compensation made by employees suffering from long COVID. If the government does announce that long COVID is an occupational disease, or even where the “disability” test is satisfied (namely, there being a physical or mental impairment that is long term and has a substantial adverse impact on what the person can do day to day) the equality legislation still needs to be considered, with sufferers potentially arguing that they are being treated less favorably due to their ‘disability’.
Work with your employees, not against them
There is still much to be studied around COVID-19, however the long-term impacts of the disease are already starting to take hold. Although there’s some uncertainty on how to approach the effects of long COVID, employers should not be too quick to dismiss employee concerns, and should instead listen to their workforce and be open to compromise. This could take the form of a temporary change in schedule or position that fits the new physical or mental requirements of the employee.
Rollout of the COVID vaccine
As the Covid-19 vaccine roll-out continues at speed, you may also find our guide on preparing your business for the vaccine useful.
If you need advice or guidance on dealing with employees suffering with long COVID, or any other occupational illness, then our employment team can guide you through your responsibilities. – contact Rhys Wyborn for guidance and support.
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