Half of people with long Covid have faced discrimination at work, poll finds

Union calls for condition to be officially recognised as a disability as survey also reveals one in 10 patients have been warned over their levels of sickness absence

Half of people with long Covid have faced discrimination at work, poll finds

More than half of people living with ‘long Covid’ have experienced discrimination at work, a survey has found, as unions call for the condition to be classed as a disability.

A report from the TUC, which polled more than 3,500 people, most of who self reported as having long Covid – the condition where those who have contracted Covid-19 still experience a wide range of symptoms months later – found 52 per cent had experienced some form of discrimination or disadvantage because of their condition.

More than a fifth of respondents (22 per cent) said they were concerned their managers would judge them poorly because long Covid had negatively affected their performance, with 18 per cent concerned they would miss out on future promotions.

Similarly, nearly one in five (18 per cent) said the amount of sick leave they had taken had triggered absence management or HR processes, while 9 per cent said they had used all their sick leave entitlement and had been warned there would be negative consequences if they took more.

The poll also found widespread disbelief of those who said they had long Covid: almost a fifth (19 per cent) of respondents said their employer had questioned the impact of their symptoms, while one in eight (13 per cent) said their employer had questioned whether they had long Covid at all.

The TUC called for long Covid to be recognised as a disability under the Equality Act, arguing that those with the condition already met the criteria for living with a disability – a “physical or mental impairment…[that] has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on [their] ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

The union also called on the government to recognise long Covid as an occupational disease. Almost four in five (79 per cent) of those who responded to the survey identified themselves as key workers, with the majority working in education or health and social care.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said recognising long Covid as a disability would mean workers would have the right to get reasonable adjustments at work. “Many of the workers who have carried us through the pandemic are now living with debilitating symptoms of long Covid,” she said.

“It’s time to recognise this condition properly – and make sure workers who are living with long Covid get the support they need to do their jobs.

“Employers must also act. They should make sure they make reasonable adjustments for workers with long Covid, and complete specific risk assessments to make sure workers with long Covid are safe at work,” O’Grady said.

The survey found that ‘brain fog’ – a difficulty thinking clearly – was the most commonly reported symptom by those with long Covid, cited by 72 per cent of respondents.

This was followed by difficulty concentrating and memory problems (62 and 54 per cent respectively).

A majority of those polled (83 per cent) also reported experiencing at least one of a range of pain-related symptoms, and 32 per cent experienced depression.

Lesley Macniven, chair of the Long Covid Employment Support Group, which worked with the TUC on the report, said even people who had a mild case of Covid could suffer with fluctuating symptoms including exhaustion.

“A year on we need legally enforceable guidance for employers and the government – informed by unions, occupational health and patient groups with significant lived experience managing long Covid,” she said.

“Long Covid is disabling young, previously healthy workers. This key step is needed to take the effects of long Covid seriously, enable rehabilitation and protect dedicated workers from discrimination due to poor understanding of the condition.”