Long Covid – dealing with the unequal impact on women

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2022 Virtual National Women's Conference
13 October 2021

Long COVID is a term to describe the symptoms and effects of coronavirus that last longer than 12 weeks beyond the initial diagnosis.

Conference notes that the Office for National Statistics reported that over a 4-week period ending 6th June 2021 almost 1 million people in the UK confirmed they were experiencing long COVID. The rates of self-reported long COVID were greatest in people aged 35-69, females, those living in the most deprived areas, those working in health or social care and those with a pre-existing health condition.

Symptoms may include, persistent fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog, insomnia, dizziness, depression, anxiety and this list is not exhaustive.

Conference is concerned about increasingly clear evidence that long-Covid affects more women than men. Conference is also concerned about how women experiencing long-Covid are likely to be treated when it comes to workplace sickness absence and performance management processes.

As UNISON set out in submissions earlier in 2021 on a Women’s Health Strategy and to the Parliamentary Women and Equalities Inquiry on the Menopause and the Workplace, many employers are unsympathetic and inflexible in regard to sickness absence when it comes to symptoms experienced mainly or wholly by women. Managing their symptoms may mean women miss out on promotions and training, reduce their hours, lose confidence and see their pay levels drop.

The same attitudes on the part of employers affect reasonable adjustments. If long COVID symptoms, have a substantial adverse impact on the employee carrying out day-to-day activities and the impairment has lasted or is likely to last for 12 months, then it could fall within the definition of a disability under the Equality Act triggering the duty to make reasonable adjustments. However, there is evidence to suggest employers are also turning down requests for reasonable adjustments from workers experiencing long-Covid, most of whom will be women.

Conference calls on National Women’s Committee to:

1)Work with other SOGs, Service Groups and the NEC to highlight that long-Covid affects more women than men and raise awareness of the implications for the way women are treated in relation to sickness absence and performance management policies.

2)Call on the government for guidance for employers to relax triggers in sickness absence procedures for long Covid.

3)Regional Women’s Committees and National Women’s Officer to research and circulate any information and studies on the particular vulnerability of women to long-Covid and build a strong data base of research to inform lobbying and campaigning.