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Long COVID

A guide about Long COVID

A guide providing information and resources about Long COVID. 

Background

Coronavirus (COVID-19) can cause symptoms that last weeks or months after the infection has gone. This is sometimes called post-COVID syndrome or "Long COVID".  The symptoms of Long COVID can be many and are varied and the NHS guide, Your COVID Recovery provides helpful guidance on the most common types of symptoms that may be experienced. 

It is still early days in the knowledge and treatment of Long COVID with studies taking place worldwide. This guide is to provide advice and link to resources whether you have Long COVID yourself, are looking to return to work or are experiencing difficulties with your employer. We also have a range of resources to help you if you are treating patients who are experiencing symptoms of Long COVID.

Please also see the RCN position on COVID-19 and our COVID-19 FAQs.

Long COVID and your workplace rights

We have collated some frequently asked questions which are below about returning to work following long term absence with Long COVID.

It is important to note that diagnosis of Long COVID is not dependent on having had a positive test for COVID-19.

I was off sick with COVID-19 for 5 weeks during the first wave in May 2020 and received full COVID-19 sick pay including my enhancements for this time. I returned to work in July working part time for a couple of weeks. By the beginning of November I had to go off sick again as I was suffering from extreme muscle pain and chronic fatigue. My GP told me it was probably “Long Covid” and advised that I rest. I can’t afford to be off any longer as my employer is only paying me Statutory Sick Pay and what savings I had have run out now.  What should I do?

Firstly you should check your contract and employer's sick pay policy – this should outline your rights and entitlements. If you work in the NHS, your employer can treat this period of absence in the same way as it did for the original one so that you can receive full COVID-19 sick pay. The situation should be the same for primary care employers too, as funding is available to them for COVID-19 related absences. If your employer refuses to treat your absence this way, please contact your RCN rep and ask what local agreements have been made – they may be able to challenge the situation.

Please also contact us if need further support and advice.

If you have evidence that you caught COVID-19 in the course of your work you may be able to claim NHS Injury Allowance or Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit from DWP. If you believe your employer was in some way negligent, perhaps because you weren’t supplied with adequate PPE, you may be able to make a legal claim for personal injury compensation. This is not easy and requires a high level of evidence. Speak to your RCN rep or contact us for more information.

You can also visit our Financial Wellbeing service for advice and support.

For full details on sick pay, please see the section on our COVID-19 and time off advice guide

The RCN expects employers to ignore absence due to COVID-19 when looking at absence management triggers or thresholds. For those working in the NHS this is clearly outlined in the official Health Department guidance:

Your employer may want to meet with you to discuss the support you require, your rehabilitation and return to work, however we would not expect this to stray into formal capability proceedings.  If you are informed that you are now subject to formal absence management, speak to your RCN steward for support or contact us.

If you have been receiving Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) during your time off work with COVID-19, you will need to claim Employment Support Allowance from DWP when your SSP runs out. SSP can be paid for a maximum of 28 weeks in any one period but will be reduced if you have any time off sick immediately prior to this period.

In the NHS, COVID-19 sick pay or absence pay will be regarded as a regularly occurring payment and so is pensionable.

The reason for absence on a Fit Note is usually a matter agreed between the GP and the patient. It would be advisable to discuss this with your GP because if your condition can be linked to exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, you may be entitled to additional financial support.

Please see our section on annual leave in our COVID-19 and time off guide.

The RCN expects all health and social care employers to give maximum support to any staff who are absent due to COVID-19,  this should includes financial as well as employment support.  However, if, after taking medical advice, it appears unlikely that a staff member will be able to return to work in the future it is not automatically unfair for their employer to seek to terminate their contract. This can be complex area so you should seek support from your RCN rep or by contacting us.

As with any long-term illness/absence, your employer should discuss the best way for you to return to work in advance of your return. They may wish to seek advice form an Occupational health adviser or from your GP via advice on your Fit Note. It can be helpful for you to go into any discussions with suggestions which can be implemented to enable you return to work successfully. In the NHS, most employers will have an Absence Management Policy that outlines the process they will follow.

All NHS organisations should follow, as a minimum, the guidance outlined in Annex 26 of the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service handbook which describes the requirement for early intervention and consideration of rehabilitation and redeployment. This also includes a requirement for phased return on full pay for an agreed length of time before staff are expected to utilise their annual leave if their hours are still reduced.

In England please also see the NHS Long COVID plan 2021/22, the NHS Employers guidance supporting recovery after Long COVID and the NHS Joint Trade Unions Long COVID Briefing (October 2021). The Society of Occupational Medicine has published some helpful guidance on return to work following Long COVID.

Your fitness to work is a matter between you and your GP and is described in your Fit Note. However, legally this is only “advice” to an employer, and they may wish to take further medical advice, for example from an occupational health specialist. HM Government advice to employers states the following: 

“You can choose to give this other evidence precedence over the advice in the fit note. Your employee may disagree with you, and you may need to demonstrate to an employment tribunal why the alternative source of evidence was more acceptable to you than the fit note.”

In England please also see the NHS Long COVID plan 2021/22, the NHS Employers guidance supporting recovery after long COVID and the NHS Joint Trade Unions Long COVID Briefing (October 2021).

This should be discussed in any absence management meeting and you may wish to take someone with you as support. Speak to you RCN rep or contact us for further advice. 

The RCN provides additional support to members through our Member Support Services.

Our Peer Support Service provides a range of helpful resources and guidance for members suffering with ill health and disability. We have a closed Facebook group for members affected by COVID-19 where you can give and receive non-professional support. You will need your RCN membership number to join the group. Please also note that you are joining for support with Long COVID.

We also have a Counselling Service for members that can provide support with personal or work-related issues. 

If you are experiencing financial difficulties, we have a range of services including tools, resources and support through the RCN Welfare team. For more information go to our Financial wellbeing guide.

Our careers resources also have guidance on managing a career around your health in addition to general careers advice.

We have a range of clinical resources on COVID-19 which can be found in our Clinical Guidance for managing COVID-19.

We also have the below relating specifically to Long COVID:

Looking for something else?

Please see our COVID-19 and vaccination FAQs for our most commonly asked questions about accessing and receiving the vaccine.

If you are a vaccinator, our clinical guidance may also be helpful.

Page last updated - 30/05/2022