Long COVID and the workplace

Long COVID and the workplace

28 July 2022

While Australia grapples with another wave of Omicron, workplaces and employers are once again scrabbling to manage the gaps in their workforce. No business is immune and the impact on businesses throughout the nation has been enormous.

Long COVID is a new phenomenon to understand in this pandemic. Whilst we’ve all heard reports about it, it’s interesting to review what is known, and if there are any measures we can take as employers to minimise the impact of COVID on our team members.

What is long COVID?

COVID-19 impacts everyone differently and most people will completely recover after a few weeks. However, some people will still experience one or more symptoms for longer than 12 weeks after their initial infection. This is ‘long COVID’ and may look different for different people.

Symptoms may include:

  • Extreme fatigue (tiredness)
  • Shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain or tightness
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Changes to taste and smell
  • Joint and muscle pain

The prevalence of long COVID is not yet known. In October 2021, an estimated 1.2million people in private households in the UK (1.9%) had self-reported experiencing long COVID, with symptoms in two thirds of these individuals having a detrimental impact on day-to-day activities. These changes can be quite debilitating and can severely impede a person’s ability to work.

Who is most at risk?

At this stage, there is no specific treatment for this condition however there do seem to be some factors associated with higher reporting of long COVID symptoms.

  • Older age
  • Female sex
  • White ethnicity
  • Poor general and mental health pre-COVID-19
  • Asthma
  • Obesity/overweight

Can we prevent long COVID?

The jury is still out about what measures need to be taken to reduce the risk of long COVID. One thing scientists do agree on is that prevention is better than cure. Keeping up to date with vaccines and boosters and being diligent about hygiene is still a must.

And when people do get COVID, ensure that individuals take the time to get better. Also follow the latest health advice about returning to exercise safely and advising your medical professional about any persistent symptoms.

What can employers do about long COVID?

This is a new area and is already placing some individual sufferers in financial crisis with no Government support available at this point in time.

As employers, we will need to treat long COVID like any other long-term illness and provide support for our employees.The UK’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, an independent public body that receives funding from the government, has developed the following guidelines for employers. These are common sense guidelines but do not really address the bigger issue which is how can we manage long COVID in the longer term? Especially if it will affect a significant proportion of our workforce.

There is no immediate solution. As with all risk, the aim is to try and prevent our employees getting COVID but as this virus is all pervading, we will just need to manage this new challenge as best we can. We'll keep you posted if we earn of any new updates in this area.