What to do if you think you’ve got long-COVID

Last updated: 22 Feb 2024

What should employers do to support staff with long-COVID?

Prospect expects employers to take long-COVID seriously and put in place arrangements to support staff members with the condition. Employers should ensure their absence management arrangements are suitable and do not penalise people.

Prospect believes that employers should disregard their usual absence management trigger points for people who have had COVID-19, and those who have or are suspected of having long-COVID.

Given the diverse nature of the symptoms, long-COVID is likely to affect people differently. For some, regardless of how serious their initial infection was, it could take a considerable period for them to return to work. It is vital that employers are sensitive to the different forms of support that employees with the condition will require.

Employers should also bear in mind that employees’ initial case of COVID may have been mild or symptomless, or may have occurred before widespread testing was available, so they may not have had a test to confirm presence of the virus. The employer may therefore be unaware that the employee had the virus.

Like any return to work, individuals should not be placed under pressure to return – it is important that employees only start working when they feel ready and capable, perhaps with a phased return. Phased returns to work typically take place over six weeks, but those with long-COVID, this may not be too much of a challenge.

Line managers should have a conversation with members of staff to judge what support is required and arrangements for returning to work. It may be necessary for the manager to contact occupational health for further advice and support, especially in the absence of a GP “fit note” (see below).

What should I do if I think I am suffering from long-COVID?

Members should speak to their GP if they suspect they have long-COVID, who may be able to coordinate medical support. GPs will be able to discuss how symptoms impact on individuals’ ability to do their work, and how their work affects their symptoms.

GPs may give patients a “fit note”, which provides advice about on how the employee’s health affects what they can do at work. It will advise whether or not the employee is fit for work and, if they are but are nevertheless unwell, what steps need to be taken to support them, such as a phased return; altered hours; amended duties; or workplace adaptations.

Members should also check their staff agreement, employment contract or sickness absence policy to find out about the arrangements in their workplace for sick pay and any conditions attached to the policies. Employers often produce procedures relating to sickness absence, setting out arrangements for things like notification, medical support and return to work. It can be useful to know in advance what to expect and what you are entitled to.

Your employer must, as a minimum, pay statutory sick pay (SSP), but it’s likely that your employer will have more generous provision in place. Find out more about sick pay during the pandemic.

Speak to your rep or call Prospect’s member contact centre if you feel you are not getting the necessary support you require from your employer.

Who is most at risk of developing long-COVID?

COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. It is currently unclear whether people from BAME backgrounds are also more at risk of developing long-COVID.

The UK COVID Symptom Study found that some demographic groups are more likely to suffer from long-COVID than others, although it did not consider ethnicity due to “incomplete data”.

The study found that older people are much more likely to get long-COVID than younger people, although it occurs across all age groups. Long-COVID affects around 10% of 18-49 year olds who become unwell with COVID-19, rising to 22% of over 70s.

Weight also plays a role, according to the research, with people developing long-COVID having a slightly higher average BMI than those with acute or “short” COVID.

While men are more likely to be admitted to hospital with COVID-19, women appear to be slightly more likely to suffer from long-COVID than men (14.5% compared with 9.5%).

The researchers also found that people with asthma were more likely to develop long-COVID, although there were no clear links to any other underlying health conditions.

Importantly, the more symptoms a person had in the first week of the infection, the more likely they were to go on to develop long-COVID, the researchers said.

Further information

Long-COVID is the name given by patients to COVID-19 that continues beyond the initial, acute phase of the illness. Health professionals may refer to it as “post-COVID-19 syndrome”.

Please visit the NHS webpage about Long-COVID for more information about symptoms and diagnosis.

There are a range of other organisations offering support and advice to those who have or suspect they have long-COVID. They include:

Get help

If you have further questions about this issue contact us for more help.