Monday 02 August, 2021

Long Covid must be recognised as a disability to avoid “massive” discrimination

Tories urged to declare long Covid a genuine disability under the Equality Act 2010.

The TUC is urging the UK government to declare long Covid a genuine disability under the Equality Act 2010.

The Equality Act 2010 defines disability as a “physical or mental impairment…[that] has a significant and long-term detrimental effect on [their] capacity to carry out routine daily activities.”

The government’s advice makes it very clear that ‘long-term’ refers to a period of at least 12 months.

TUC says more than 3,500 workers responded to a TUC survey on the impact of long Covid on people’s daily working lives.

Extending the rights under the 2010 Equality Act to include workers with Long Covid will ensure that employers cannot discriminate against them legally.

Additionally, employers would be required to make reasonable changes to eliminate, mitigate, or minimise any disadvantages that workers with long Covid encounter, just as they would for any other persistent health issue to disability.

Additionally, the TUC is urging ministers to declare Covid-19 an occupational illness, which would entitle employees and their families to protection and compensation if they caught the virus while on the job.

TUC research demonstrates how long Covid has unfairly impacted frontline employees.

Over three-quarters (79%) of respondents to the TUC poll identified as important workers, the bulk of whom work in education or health and social care. Over two-thirds (68%) of responders were female.

The research reveals the extent to which people with lengthy Covid face prejudice in the job.

Over half (52%) of respondents stated that they have faced prejudice or disadvantage as a result of their illness.

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Respondents mentioned the challenges they had when attempting to work despite suffering from a variety of long-lasting Covid effects.

One worker – who contracted Covid-19 on the job – stated that when their company decided to hold an international event during the pandemic’s initial wave they were still “expected to work long hours, handle stressful situations in impossible timeframes, find and fill in forms, and spend hours on Zoom calls.”

They added that this pressure resulted in them experiencing “extreme chest pain, shortness of breath, exhaustion and severe symptom relapses.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Many of the workers who have carried us through the pandemic are now living with debilitating symptoms of long Covid. And we’re beginning to hear troubling stories of a massive wave of discrimination against people with long Covid.

“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.

“Long Covid must be recognised as a disability. That would mean workers are protected by the Equality Act, and would have a right to get reasonable adjustments at work.

“And Covid-19 should be designated as an occupational disease. That would allow workers who contracted Covid-19 at work and are living with the consequences to claim the compensation they are due.

“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.”

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Lesley Macniven, Chair of the Long Covid Support Group, who worked with the TUC on its report, said: “Even those with ‘mild’ Covid suffer daily with fluctuating symptoms, exhausted and alone. Promises we’ll ‘just get better’ have been proved otherwise.

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

“Patients need time to convalesce, then recuperate through a very gradual, flexible phased return to work, over months, to achieve a sustainable return.

“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.”

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