Absence and sickness due to Long-COVID

For some people, coronavirus (COVID-19) can cause symptoms that last weeks or months after the infection. This can be called ‘post-COVID-19 syndrome’, ‘long-tail COVID’ or ‘long COVID’.  Long COVID symptoms could affect someone’s ability to work or cause them to take sickness absence.

The usual rules for sickness absence and sick pay will usually apply when someone is off work because of long COVID*.  (*Long Covid does not trigger usual sickness policies for NHS staff so it doesn’t affect sickness record and pay etc.)

For short term leave

Employees should:

  • Communicate the reason they are off work to their employer and provide regular updates in relation to their symptoms and expected return date
  • Provide a sick note/fit note (and discuss how long you they are likely to be off work – if known).

For longer term absence

If you are off work for longer, for example, due to Long COVID, you need to give some information to your manager and discuss:

  • How long you have been advised to stay off work, and provide a ‘fit note’, also called ‘sick note’. As an employee you have a duty to inform your manager as soon as possible if you are off sick, to provide a ‘sick note’ and to give some idea of how long you will be off sick. Due to restrictions on face-to-face GP appointments, a ‘fit note’ may currently not be necessary and an NHS 111 email may be sufficient
  • The reason you need to be off work. Something simple and general is enough, like “I have suspected COVID-19” or a “viral illness”. You are not required to give your manager any medical details. You can say as much or as little as you want
  • When you should contact your manager to provide an update. If you intend to return to work, you should arrange a meeting with your manager beforehand. If you are still too unwell to work, you must produce another ‘sick note’. You can make contact via telephone, email, video link or face-to-face. You can agree with your manager which method
  • That some people will have continuing symptoms such as fatigue for a few weeks, others may have effects of the infection which take longer to recover. Other common symptoms are fast heart rate, breathlessness, and pain. You may feel anxious or low in mood. If you are worried about any new symptoms you should contact your GP
  • That Long COVID can have unusual patterns: relapses, phases with new, sometimes bizarre symptoms
  • That an initially mild case can be followed by later severe problems that can impact markedly on day-today activities
  • That Long COVID can last for many months
  • That you may need help with accessing healthcare tests and scans that would speed a return to work.

Do not hold back from asking for this.

Sick notes and fit notes

Sick Note7 days off sick or less:

  • Your employer should not ask for medical evidence that you’ve been ill. 
  • Instead, they can ask you to confirm that you’ve been ill. You can do this by filling in a form yourself when you return to work. This is called self-certification.

Fit Note – more than 7 days off sick:

  • Your employer will usually ask for a fit note (or Statement of Fitness for Work) from a GP or hospital doctor. Fit notes are sometimes referred to as medical statements or a doctor’s note.
  • Your doctor will assess you, and if they decide your health affects your fitness for work, they can issue a fit note and advise either that:
    • You are “not fit for work”
    • You “may be fit for work taking into account the following advice”

The information on your ‘fit note’ should be an agreement between you and the doctor (GP or hospital specialist) who writes it. Your health information is confidential to you, but it does help to give a simple explanation. In some jobs e.g. the NHS, writing COVID-19 on the ‘fit note’ helps to ensure that you are paid correctly during your absence.

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