A TUC survey shows many people suffering from long Covid say they have faced discrimination at work.
A new large-scale, government-funded study shows the number of people suffering from long Covid is much larger than previously thought and confirmed that older people, especially women, are more likely to have it.
The news comes on the heels of a TUC study which calls for greater job protection for those who suffer from long Covid.
The React study by Imperial College shows more than two million adults in England have experienced coronavirus symptoms lasting over 12 weeks – this is twice what was previously estimated by the Office for National Statistics.
According to the study, people with long Covid tend to fall into one of two categories: people with breathing issues, who often had more severe symptoms when they got Covid, and others with more fatigue-related symptoms.
The TUC is calling for long Covid to be urgently recognised as a disability under the Equality Act and for Covid-19 to be seen as an occupational disease so that workers have access to legal protections and compensation.
Its survey of more than 3,500 workers, the vast majority key workers in education, health or social care, showed 52 per cent of those who have had long Covid [29 per cent of the total said they had experienced symptoms lasting more than a year] said they had experienced some form of discrimination or disadvantage at work due to their condition.
The survey also showed that 95 per cent of those who have experienced symptoms lasting longer than a year had ongoing symptoms. A clear majority had experienced side effects including brain fog (72 per cent), shortness of breath (70 per cent), difficulty concentrating (62 per cent) and memory problems (54 per cent).
More than two-thirds (68 per cent) of respondents to the survey were women. This is consistent with other research showing middle-aged women are more likely to suffer from long Covid.
Around a fifth (19 per cent) of those suffering from long Covid said their employer had questioned the impact of their symptoms. One in eight (13 per cent) faced questions from their employer about whether they had long Covid at all and one in 20 respondents (5 per cent) said they had been forced out of their jobs altogether because they had long Covid.
Around one in six respondents (18 per cent) said the amount of sick leave they had taken had triggered absence management or HR processes.
The TUC says extending the Equality Act 2010 protections so they cover workers with long Covid would ensure employers cannot legally discriminate against them. It would also put a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments that remove, reduce or prevent any disadvantages workers with long Covid face.
The TUC says recognising Covid-19 as an occupational disease would entitle employees and their dependents to protection and compensation if they contracted the virus while working.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Many of the workers who have carried us through the pandemic are now living with debilitating symptoms of long Covid. And we’re beginning to hear troubling stories of a massive wave of discrimination against these people.
“It’s time to recognise this condition properly – and make sure workers who are living with long Covid get the support they need to do their jobs…
“Employers must also act. They should make sure they make reasonable adjustments for workers with the condition, and complete specific risk assessments to make sure workers with long Covid are safe at work.”
Concerns have also been raised by the All Party Parliamentary Group [APPG] on coronavirus that many people suffering face financial struggles, given that statutory sick pay only covers six months and people cannot be classed as having a long-term disability until they have a condition for 12 months. The APPG want the government to create a compensation scheme for frontline workers suffering from long Covid and for it to be recognised as an occupational disease as well as government guidelines on how employers should support staff while they are ill and on their return to work.