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Is Long Covid a Disability?

According to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), an estimated 1 million people in private households in the UK reported experiencing “long Covid” in the four weeks to 2 May 2021. There is no formal agreed definition of long Covid, but it has been described as covering a broad range of symptoms, including fatigue (the most common symptom), muscle pain and difficulty concentrating.

The ONS report indicates that long Covid was estimated to be adversely affecting the day-to-day activities of 650,000 people, with 192,000 reporting that their ability to undertake day-to-day activities had been severely limited. Prevalence of self-reported long Covid was greatest in people aged 35 to 69 years, women, those living in the most deprived areas, those working in health or social care, and those with another health condition or disability that already limits their ability to undertake day-to-day activities.

This suggests that those suffering from the long-term effects of Covid-19 may well be considered to be “disabled” within the definition of the Equality Act 2010. A person is disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on their ability to do normal daily activities. “Substantial” means that an effect is more than minor or trivial (for example, it takes much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task, like getting dressed) and “long-term” means 12 months or more.

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a job applicant or employee because of disability. Section 20 and Schedule 8 of the Equality Act 2010 also impose a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments to help disabled job applicants, employees and former employees in certain circumstances. An employer will not be obliged to make reasonable adjustments unless it knows or ought reasonably to know that the individual in question is disabled and likely to be placed at a substantial disadvantage because of their disability.

Most employers will probably already be aware if their employees have been off work owing to Covid-19, and whilst not all people who have had Covid will get “long Covid,” it is probable that this will mean that employers will be expected to have known that an employee with long Covid is disabled. Such employers need to be alert, both to the risk of discrimination and to their obligations to make reasonable adjustments to assist those employees.

If you have any questions about disability or other forms of discrimination, employees’ rights and the obligations on employers, contact our employment experts on 0808 252 5231 and we will be happy to help.