UK employers should consider taking out health or income protection insurance due to the growing threat posed by long Covid.
This is the warning from leading law firm Irwin Mitchell in light of a new report from the ONS published earlier this month.
The report shows that, over the four-week period ending 6 March 2021, an estimated 1.1m people in private households in the UK self-reported experiencing long Covid.
Dr Sybille Steiner, partner at Irwin Mitchell, told Healthcare & Protection that as so little is known about long Covid, it is important that employers deal with affected employees on a case-by-case basis in the most sympathetic way possible.
This includes investing in health assessments and occupational health advice, so that employers can understand where they can make adjustments to assist the employee.
“Employers may also consider taking out permanent health insurance or income protection insurance. However, for an employer to be able to make a claim under such insurance policies employees are likely to have to meet certain eligibility criteria which may include long Covid being a disability under the Equality Act 2010. Whether people suffering from long Covid will meet the test of disability under the Equality Act is uncertain at the moment. It is therefore important for employers to speak to their insurance providers to understand what approach they are taking in relation to long Covid.”
Meanwhile Jacqueline McDermott, partner at Keystone Law, told Healthcare & Protection, an added concern is that while long Covid is not currently classed as a disability under the Equality Act, an employee suffering from long Covid for 12 months or more, is likely to be deemed to be disabled for the purposes of the Act, depending on the severity and duration of the effects.
“This means that treating an employee suffering from long Covid less favourably because they have long Covid or, for example, have high levels of sickness absence or are unable to fully fulfil the requirements of their role could amount to direct disability discrimination or discrimination arising from a disability.
“In addition, the Act requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to alleviate any disadvantage suffered by disabled individuals in the workplace. For employees with long Covid, potential adjustments might, for instance, include adjusting working hours or allowing individuals to continue working from home after lockdown.”