Could long COVID be classed as a disability?

The Office of National Statistics has recently reported that there are an estimated 1.8 million people in the UK experiencing long COVID symptoms.

What is long COVID?

Whilst many people with COVID-19 recover quickly, some experience symptoms after the infection has gone. If the symptoms persist for more than four weeks, this is what is referred to as long COVID.

The NHS website provides a list of common long COVID symptoms:

  • extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain or tightness
  • problems with memory and concentration (“brain fog”)
  • difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • heart palpitations
  • dizziness
  • pins and needles
  • joint pain
  • depression and anxiety
  • tinnitus, earaches
  • feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
  • a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
  • rashes

The meaning of “disability” under the Equality Act

The definition of “disability” under the Equality Act 2010 is a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on a person’s ability to do normal daily activities.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s opinion

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) does not recommend that long COVID be treated as a disability without case law or scientific consensus. The EHRC published a statement that long COVID is not a condition which is an automatic disability such as cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis.

However, if long COVID symptoms have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, the employment tribunal or court may determine long COVID could amount to a disability.

How we can help

Employers should follow existing guidance when considering reasonable adjustments and flexible working to support workers affected by long COVID or other medical conditions.

If you would like further information and support on this, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our employment team.