Why HR professionals are considering the challenge of long Covid

June 25th 2021 | Posted by phil scott

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in the four-week period ending 6 March, 2021 around 1.1 million people in the UK reported suffering from symptoms of long Covid.

Of these people, 674,000 people said the issues were affecting their day-to-day activity and 196,000 people said their activities were restricted a lot.

It’s clear that even though long COVID is still something of an unknown quantity it is likely to have a significant impact on the world of work for the immediate future, at the very least. Therefore, HR professionals are working to understand the diverse nature of the symptoms of long COVID and how to best manage long-term absences caused by the issue as well as returns to work.

The impact on long-term sick leave

The individual health issues resulting from long COVID have wider implications for the business. This includes the potential for many individuals to be off sick for the long term. HR is central to helping individuals and the business overcome the challenges of this.

Obviously, managing sickness absence is something that HR teams do all the time. However, there is potential for larger numbers of these absences right now and each absence is likely to be very different given the wide range of symptoms and effects involved.

Dealing with the return to work

Helping individuals return to work is another potential hurdle that HR professionals are considering right now. It’s a complex task given the fact that every case of long COVID is different. Each individual needs to have a conversation with HR in order to ensure that they are supported back into work in a way that suits their personal situation.

The potential for relapse is also a major factor. The nature of long COVID is that it is not always constant. Returning to work could exacerbate the problem further.

Is a change to policies necessary?

Given the unpredictable nature of long COVID, it may be necessary for some HR managers to work with the business to make amendments to sickness policies. For example, an individual may have several periods of sickness as a result of the issue.

This would normally trigger formal action in many businesses. So, changes may be necessary in order to provide a supportive approach with rehabilitation at its core.

Assistance from occupational health

Right now, there is no legal obligation for employers to make reasonable adjustments for people suffering from long COVID under the Equality Act. However, HR managers are still considering the legal implications of managing an individual’s welfare during their absence and as they return to work.

As part of this HR professionals are consulting occupational health (OH). The aim is to put in place reasonable adjustments that may not be legally required but are still a moral obligation. For example, an individual’s working pattern may be adjusted to make it easier for them to return to work.

Overall, HR professionals are considering the impact of long COVID from the point of view of the individual and the business. In order to do this, they are ensuring that discussions involve the individual and OH, and decisions are supported by medical advice.

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