Recent studies highlight significant inadequacies in the current workplace policies concerning individuals suffering from Long Covid.

Long Covid refers to the continuation of symptoms that persist well beyond the initial recovery period of COVID-19. This condition can manifest in various forms, including fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, and breathing difficulties, among others. It impacts daily activities and can fluctuate in intensity, presenting unique challenges in managing consistent work routines.

A comprehensive qualitative analysis conducted by researchers at the University of Stirling, in collaboration with the Universities of Oxford and York, delved into the employment reintegration experiences of 65 adults during 2021 and 2022. These individuals faced ongoing disability due to Long Covid, revealing a stark reality: traditional employment policies categorise employees too rigidly as either ‘able’ or ‘disabled’. This binary classification fails to accommodate the variable and often invisible nature of Long Covid symptoms.

Dr. Alice MacLean from the University of Stirling’s Institute of Social Marketing and Health remarked on the absence of official recognition for Long Covid as a disability within the UK. Consequently, there is scant guidance available for affected individuals about effectively returning to work. The study participants expressed that current policies regarding sickness absence, return to work, and welfare are ill-suited for those with Long Covid. They frequently encountered a lack of support when resuming work and had to take on the additional burden of educating their employers and peers about the debilitating impact of their symptoms while negotiating necessary adjustments in their work environment.

Moreover, the research uncovered a significant shift in the economic activity levels among those with self-reported Long Covid in the UK, indicating a marked decline compared to those without the condition. This finding is underscored by international moves, such as Belgium’s recent decision to classify COVID-19 as an occupational disease, which provides additional support and compensation for workers suffering from long-term disabilities due to the virus.

The study also highlighted the psychological toll on Long Covid sufferers, who grapple with emotions of sadness, guilt, and fear due to their reduced work capability. The relapse of symptoms when returning to work too soon or without adequate gradual integration was a common issue shared by the participants.

This research, funded by the Scottish Government’s Chief Scientist Office and published in the journal Disability & Society, forms part of a broader initiative by Stirling’s health experts to explore the enduring impacts of COVID-19 and the support needs of its sufferers. Current recruitment efforts for new studies are focused on understanding Long Covid’s effects on frontline public sector employees in Scotland, such as nurses and teachers.

For professionals involved in workplace wellbeing, these findings highlight the necessity for adaptable and inclusive work policies that recognise the fluctuating and often invisible nature of conditions like Long Covid. Employers need to foster an understanding environment that accommodates the unique challenges posed by this and similar conditions, ensuring a supportive return to work for all employees.

Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website | + posts

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.