Long Covid looks set to be a huge issue for employers as employees
physically return to work, warns Steve Herbert head of benefits strategy
at Howdens Employee Benefits and Wellbeing.
Herbert points to views such as that of Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), who has said that for every death, four or five who survive are “damaged” by Covid-19.
The warning comes as the Office for National Statistics has estimated that in the week commencing 27 December 2020, 301,000 people in private households in England were living with Covid symptoms that had persisted for between five and 12 weeks. In February, the ONS suggested that 22.1 per cent of respondents to its Coronavirus Infection Survey were still reporting at least one symptom at 5 weeks following infection, while 9.8% had symptoms at 12 weeks.Herbert suggests that many employers do not appreciate the risks of Long Covid within the nation’s working age population.
“The truth of the matter is a much more diverse range of people are suffering from Long Covid than are at risk of dying. And many of those who only experienced mild Covid-19 symptoms initially have gone on to have major problems with Long Covid. The young and incredibly fit can be knocked-down by this. You have marathon runners who can’t climb a flight of stairs months later.”
Herbert suggests that home working and furlough are probably masking the problem for employers, with the potential problems just not being visible to employers at present.
“If you have Long Covid and are working from home you are probably delivering on at least some of your KPIs. So your employer might not be fully aware of how severe your symptoms are.
And if you are an employee on furlough with Long Covid then you may have had no reason to tell your employer that you are ill. Indeed many in that situation might have made a conscious decision to avoid telling their employer, as the 80% of salary paid by the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is likely to be significantly more than they would receive via company or state sick pay support policies.”
Herbert says that the scale of the problem will only be known when the return to work instruction is finally given.
“This is an unexploded employment bomb that might just detonate when the return to the physical workplace takes place later this year” he said.
Herbert expects to see increased calls on Group Income Protection (GIP) and Private Medical Insurance (PMI) when the return to the workplace is initiated by the government, so he is encouraging employers to find out the scale of the problem in advance.
“If employers have GIP in place, they need to notify the insurer if there is a potential claim approaching. This will also probably unlock support in the form of Early Intervention Services that may help employees return to work more quickly too. In addition employers can direct employees towards the other support tools such as PMI and health cashplans too.
Herbert also says insurers and benefits consultants need to be more supportive of employers as well.
“The industry and its actuaries are largely aware of this issue, but we need to ensure that employers fully understand the nature of Long Covid, and indeed how prevalent it could be amongst the working-age population. It’s clear from the reaction I get following webinars to employers how few are really aware of this problem, so we need to get this message out before the physical return to work begins so that preventative action can be taken.”