Employment tribunal classes long COVID as a disability

‘Staff with long COVID need reasonable adjustments and support, not to be put on the scrap heap’

Tired man

In a landmark legal case for sufferers of long COVID, an employment tribunal recently ruled that the symptoms brought about by the condition may be classed as a disability.

Terence Burke brought claims of disability discrimination and  unfair dismissal after being sacked from his job as a caretaker in 2021. He had worked in the role since 2001, but had been unable to attend work for nine months after suffering substantial and long-term effects from COVID-19 after contracting the virus in November 2020.

The tribunal considered and decided at a preliminary hearing that Mr Burke’s symptoms during this time amounted to a disability within the definition of the Equality Act 2010. The Tribunal gave Mr Burke permission to proceed with his claim of disability discrimination against his former employer.

The judgement referenced a TUC report from June 2021 about workers’ experience of long COVID, and supported what the claimant said about the recurrence of the symptoms.

The judgement also noted that occupational health evidence had been unhelpful for the claimant, highlighting a challenge for UNISON members and representatives who are facing similar problems.

Employment Tribunal decisions are not binding, but they are persuasive, and may still be used by negotiators to point to employers the direction a tribunal might take in similar circumstances.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “I welcome this employment tribunal decision, which shows that the symptoms of long COVID can amount to a disability.

“It’s important that employers consider this decision and provide reasonable adjustments and support to their staff with long COVID.

UNISON has updated its guidance on how to support members with long COVID.

UNISON national officer Deirdre Costigan said: “UNISON’s updated guidance explains this important case, which gives our reps more tools in their toolbox when representing members with long COVID in the workplace. It highlights the importance of looking at the individual circumstances of each case when arguing the member is disabled due to the impact of long COVID.”