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Victims of long Covid ‘face job discrimination’

Workers still suffering debilitating symptoms need legal protection, says union organisation

THOUSANDS of workers suffering the exhausting effects of “long Covid” are facing “massive discrimination” in the workplace with some even losing their jobs, the TUC warned today as it called for the long-term illness to be recognised as a disability.

The TUC is demanding that workers affected by long Covid are given legal protection against discrimination by employers.

The union organisation exposed the scale of the problem a study revealing that more than three-quarters of employees with long Covid are key workers, some of whom contracted the virus at work. 

Two-thirds of long Covid sufferers are women, most work in health and social care or education, and many face “disbelief or suspicion” when reporting the condition, the TUC found.

The TUC wants the government to “urgently recognise” long Covid as a disability under the Equality Act.

Its research, based on a survey of 3,500 workers, found three in 10 workers with long Covid have experienced symptoms lasting longer than a year, meaning they should have legal protection at work.

More than half experienced discrimination or disadvantage and a majority experienced brain fog, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating and memory problems.

Lesley Macniven, chairwoman of the Long Covid Employment Support Group, who worked with the TUC on the report, said: “Even those with ‘mild’ Covid can suffer daily with fluctuating symptoms, exhausted and alone.

“Promises that we’ll ‘just get better’ have been proved otherwise.

“Long Covid is disabling young, previously healthy workers. This key step is needed to take the effects of long Covid seriously, enable rehabilitation and protect dedicated workers from discrimination due to poor understanding of the condition.”

One worker who contracted Covid-19 at work said: “I was still expected to work long hours, handle stressful situations in impossible timeframes, find and fill in forms, which I struggled to do because of cognitive issues, and spend hours on Zoom calls when I struggled to talk and breathe, resulting in extreme chest pain, shortness of breath, exhaustion and severe symptom relapses.”

A female key worker in the south-east said: “During the pandemic we were low on personal protective equipment (PPE) and therefore we were not provided with enough or the correct PPE.

“I caught Covid twice as a result of this.

“Since October I have been suffering with chest pain that has gotten gradually worse. I have had to take unpaid time off work.”

A female worker in north-west England said: “I travel by public transport four hours a day to and from work in addition to my eight hours shift. 

“It is extremely difficult to focus on my job due to extreme fatigue and joint pains at work.”

If Covid-19 is recognised as an occupational disease, employees and their dependants would be entitled to protection and compensation if they contracted the virus while working.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Many of the workers who have carried us through the pandemic are now living with debilitating symptoms of long Covid, and we’re beginning to hear troubling stories of a massive wave of discrimination against people with long Covid.”

She said that as well as giving affected workers legal protection, “employers must also act.

“They should make sure they make reasonable adjustments for workers with long Covid, and complete specific risk assessments to make sure workers with long Covid are safe at work.”

Linda Burnip of direct action campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts said: “Given the utterly scandalous and dismissive way several long-lasting disabilities are considered, this comes as no surprise but this scapegoating of people disabled by long Covid must stop.”

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