Thousands face losing jobs due to long Covid

‘Rigid absence management policies’ written before pandemic ‘not fit for purpose,’ support group says

Samuel Lovett
Science Correspondent
Saturday 30 October 2021 11:54
<p>Some 405,000 people in the UK are suffering from symptoms that have persisted for at least a year since they were infected with Covid </p>

Some 405,000 people in the UK are suffering from symptoms that have persisted for at least a year since they were infected with Covid

Thousands of people with long Covid are being fired or discriminated against at work because of their condition, campaigners believe.

Some 405,000 individuals are suffering from symptoms that have persisted for at least a year since they were infected, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

As a result of their conditions, which can be debilitating, many have been unable to work and forced to take long-term sick leave. In some instances, people with long Covid have been sacked from their job.

A recent survey conducted by the campaign group Long Covid Support found that 5 per cent of respondents had been dismissed directly because of long Covid. Contracts were ended with no recourse or staff were fired with immediate effect, the group said.

The survey of 252 ‘long-haulers’, which ran from 25 September to 3 October, also found that seven per cent resigned while 45 per cent have yet to return to work, despite repeated attempts to do so. Women were disproportionately affected, the research showed.

“This is a significant loss of skilled workforce,” said Long Covid Support. “The prevalence of long Covid in women has serious and potentially long-term negative implications for gender equality in the UK labour market. It may also impact child poverty.”

Jenny Ceolta-Smith, 55, has been suffering from long Covid since March of last year and believes she was “coerced” out of her job as an occupational therapist lecturer training future NHS staff at a university in the north.

After two attempts throughout 2020 to return to work, during which time she was supported by her employer, she approached her manager and HR last February to ask for a temporary reduction in weekly hours and the option to work from home.

Management were unable to support her request to work from home, at which point Dr Ceolta-Smith reluctantly decided she would agree to leave as she was physically unable to teach on campus.

“I haven't been paid for the last three months. I feel like I've been on some sort of gardening leave, nobody's been in touch with me. It’s made me think I've been subjected to discrimination and unfair dismissal,” Ms Ceolta-Smith told The Independent.

“There's this kind of coercion or really unhelpful ways of not being supportive, not offering reasonable adjustments, or not being flexible and creative. So you do feel your only option is to leave.”

A separate survey from the Trades Union Congress showed that out of 3,500 people with long Covid, just over half had experienced some form of discrimination or disadvantage in the workplace due to their condition. Around a fifth (19 per cent) said their employer had questioned the impact of their symptoms.

Lesley Macniven, who chairs an employment-focused sub-group of Long Covid Support, said that as the pandemic has extended into 2021 “we've seen a steady increase in posts asking for advice about employment issues.”

She told The Independent: “The stories we see from group members and surveys done by the employment group and the TUC may well only scratch the surface of this issue.

“They certainly suggest that potentially thousands of people with long Covid are effectively being pushed out of employment, based on poor absence management policy, disability discrimination and or a lack of leadership as to how to support those with this new condition.”

“Evidence shows that HR and line managers often follow rigid absence management policies written pre-Covid that aren't fit for this purpose. The consensus is now that long Covid requires a much more slow, steady increase in all aspects of activity led by the patient. Returning too quickly precipitates relapses.”

Dr Elaine Maxwell, a former scientific advisor at NIHR and researcher on long Covid, said the “enduring nature” of the condition means many people “are unable to return to work and are experiencing financial hardship. More are returning to work but not functioning at 100 per cent.

“This is particularly so for healthcare workers, the occupational group most likely to experience Long Covid. Safety science has long established that reduced situational awareness is major factor in adverse events and safety failure.”

In total, more than one million people living in the UK are experiencing persistent symptoms after an infection of Covid-19, figures from the ONS shows.

In its most recent survey of private households up to 5 September, the ONS estimated 1.1 million people had Long Covid symptoms for more than four weeks after their infection.

More than 830,000 people said they still had symptoms at least 12 weeks after being infected. Of these, the ONS found 211,000 people were reporting their ability to carry out day to day activities was being “limited a lot” by their symptoms.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in