The Practical Part
Allow the individuals to take their time returning to work. Don’t apply pressure to return early or get back to “normal” hours too quickly. Long Covid is difficult to predict in terms of individual effect, sometimes an individual can appear to be progressing well before relapsing with their recovery. A gradual return is likely to cause less long-term disruption.
The NHS’ Covid Recovery Plan recommends the “3 Ps”. That the employee should:
- Pace themselves so they don’t push themselves too hard, and make sure they have plenty of rest
- Plan their days so their most tiring activities are spread out across the week; and
- Prioritise – think about what they need to do and what can be put off
Be proactive in managing any absence, agree with the employee about how and when contact will be made and schedule regular check-in meetings.
It is worth bearing in mind that the usual rules for sickness absence and sick pay apply if an employee cannot work due to long Covid.
Be open, sympathetic and engage with employees experiencing symptoms.
Keep the discussion open and encourage honesty so you can appropriately support individuals.
Consider and discus whether any reasonable adjustments are possible to alleviate the problems the individual is experiencing. For example:
- Reduced hours
- Phased return
- Continued homeworking
- Flexible hours
- Longer lunch breaks
- Adapted physical workspaces
For those already working from home, offer the freedom for them to work from their own clock when necessary and cut down on the more exhausting tasks, such as meetings.
Dr Strain uses the helpful analogy of a smart phone battery when thinking about long Covid. If you let the battery go completely flat recharging it takes even longer. It is therefore better not to let the battery run down to empty. Instead, recharge regularly to ‘top up’. If you do so, the battery will last much longer. Bear this in mind when considering how you can best support employees.
Raise awareness (where appropriate) within the business and educate managers and others how to support employees, spot any warning signs (e.g. repeated periods of absence) and about the importance of applying policies and procedures in a non-discriminatory way.
Speak to your Permanent Health Insurance provider to understand their approach and access the ACAS guidance for employers and workers suffering with the effects of long Covid.
When managing employees with long Covid, have in mind your Long Term Sickness Absence procedure and Capability procedure in the same way as for any employee with long term health issues.
The key is not to adopt a blanket approach to employees who have or are suspected of having long Covid but instead deal with each employee on a case-by-case basis.