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Health workers seek long Covid compensation

Claimants argue that they were not supplied with suitable personal protective equipment at work - ©pilli/Adobe Stock

Dozens of healthcare workers with long Covid are waiting for the High Court to progress their compensation claim.

The group of around 70 people is suing the NHS, alongside other employers, for loss of income due to life-changing disabilities that they argue are a direct result of the employers’ failure to properly protect them from Covid-19 at work.

The group’s representatives were told last week that their claim would be heard alongside that of a similar claim from a different group of healthcare professionals with long Covid.

A hearing at the High Court is due to take place in October and could lead to a full trial in 2025/26.

The claimants argue that health workers were not supplied with suitable personal protective equipment at work.

Read more: Most businesses are suffering from Long Covid

"We were not protected while working on the frontline, while doing our jobs," one of the claimants told the BBC.

Others highlighted that they had had to retire early, or quit their jobs due to the chronic condition that impacts an estimated 1.9 million people in the UK.

Representatives of some of the employers being sued told the BBC that their staff’s health and wellbeing is a priority.

Rachel Suff, the CIPD’s senior policy adviser, told HR magazine: “It’s concerning to see the impact of long Covid on people’s health and sickness absence, as well as potential early exit from the labour market.”

Turing her attention to what businesses can do to support employees with long Covid, she added: “Organisations that have good people management practices are best placed to support employees with a long-term health condition such as long Covid.

“Guiding principles for managing people with long Covid can include providing decent occupational sick pay to protect people's financial wellbeing and to prevent a premature return to work if not ready.

"Employers can also train line managers to effectively support people to carry on working where possible, and to manage their symptoms, ensure absences are managed with compassion and flexibility and ensure full access to workplace adjustments, such as a phased return to work, reduced hours or reduced commute times.”

Read more: Employers concerned about long-term illness

Speaking to HR magazine, Alan Price, CEO for the HR and health and safety software firm BrightHR, said that long Covid should be dealt with in the same way as any other medical condition, reminding employers to consider each situation individually.

“The important thing is not to have a blanket approach to employees who are confirmed to have long Covid,” he continued, “which means discussing with each employee to identify how it affects them and deciding on the support needed to ensure the employee is able to continue working well.

“It is also important to bear in mind the mental health of those suffering from long Covid. This is likely a difficult time for them, as they adjust to a change of lifestyle. To this end, management should ensure that employees can come forward with any issues they are having and receive appropriate support. The company should also consider offering access to an employee assistance programme.”

James England, senior associate for the law firm Eversheds Sutherland, warned HR magazine that “HR teams must be alive to the prospect that an employee’s long Covid could satisfy the definition of disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. HR teams are under a positive obligation to make reasonable adjustments if they know (or ought to know) that an employee has a disability. 

“Therefore, they should take early, proactive steps to understand the impact of an employee’s long Covid diagnosis, including making a referral to occupational health, and seeking recommendations to support the employee, for example adjustments to their duties, hours and the amount of time they attend the office.

“It is important that employees feel supported in these circumstances,” he added. “Frequent, open communication with the employee should go a long way towards achieving this.”