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Long COVID represents significant threat to workforce

New data from the Office for National Statistic (ONS) has found more than a million people in the UK were experiencing long COVID in February this year.

An estimated 674,000 people said their symptoms have negatively impacted on their ability to undertake their day-to-day activities, showing signs of a new way coronavirus may be impacting the workplace.

Kate Underwood, managing director of Kate Underwood HR and Training, said employers around the country need to start thinking about how they will deal with long COVID in the months and potentially years ahead.

She said: “Many of the people impacted by long COVID, with symptoms such as shortness of breath and fatigue, will still be working and they need understanding employers to help them get through.

“From a recruitment point of view, employers also need to be careful about discriminating against potential employees with long COVID as they could be taken to an employment tribunal.”

The prevalence rates of self-reported long COVID were greatest in women aged 35 to 69 years and those working in health or social care.

On 12 March, research presented to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) showed that long COVID is more likely in working-age women than in men.

It said women under 50 are five times as likely as men under 50 to report a new disability, six times as likely to experience greater breathlessness, and twice as likely to feel more fatigued up to 11 months after leaving hospital for treatment of the virus.

The pandemic has been exacerbating existing workplace inequalities in the UK, data from LinkedIn found women over the age of 30 have had a tougher time starting new jobs since the start of the pandemic.

The hiring rate for women over 30 reportedly sank to its lowest point in May 2020 during the first lockdown, amid school closures and in May 2020, 65% of men applying for jobs were hired, compared to 35% of women.

As the UK continues on its roadmap out of lockdown, some workplaces are looking at ways to safely reintegrate people into the workplace and considering how testing, vaccination and hybrid working arrangements will play their part in it.

Rachel Maguire, co-founder of job-sharing consultancy The Job Share Pair, said flexibility will be a key part of return to work plans, especially for those who may be suffering from long COVID.

She said: "Employers need to proactively support staff who are suffering from the long-term effects of the virus.

“Giving people suffering from long COVID the space and autonomy to work flexibly, and at their own pace, can go a long way to help them recuperate and return to normal working practices more quickly.”

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