A GP employer's guide to long COVID and disability

Employee absences owing to COVID are inevitable, but how do we deal with absences because of long COVID and any potential disability that may arise as a result?

Location: UK
Published: Friday 23 September 2022
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As COVID continues to dominate our lives, GP practices are particularly affected by the pressure of dealing with the virus itself and its effects on staff.

Different situations will require different approaches, and a BMA employment adviser can help to ensure situations are being dealt with effectively.


A GP was able to return to work and complete her duties while recovering

When a salaried GP with long COVID tried to return to work, she found it exhausting, overwhelming and difficult to manage the long hours required. The BMA EAS (employer advisory service) helped the practice to arrange an OH (occupational health) referral, discussed the situation with the GP and implemented some adjustments.

Although very little was known about long COVID at the time, the OH practitioner was able to suggest adjustments to assist with the fatigue, which included more breaks, extra admin time and reduced hours.

This meant the GP could return to work and complete her duties while recovering, reducing the risk of her taking legal action against the practice for a failure to implement reasonable adjustments and helping the GP and the practice to work together effectively.

As a relatively new condition, we must take extra care in managing the situation. Long COVID can be particularly unpredictable with an unclear prognosis, so in some ways, we need to 'wait it out', but it is likely to be categorised as a disability in employment terms.

Therefore, there is a duty for employers to address the needs of an employee and consider any reasonable adjustments. This can be through a referral to OH, a change in working pattern, job role or any other amendments to help your employee return to and remain in work.


A receptionist was too unwell to return to work but was threatening legal action

A receptionist was suffering from long COVID, and the BMA assisted the practice to manage the absence. They considered all possible reasonable adjustments, which included considering a change of hours and a change of role. Sadly, the receptionist remained too unwell to return to work but was threatening legal action against the practice.

In this case, the BMA helped the practice with conducting the ill-health retirement process, ensuring they remained compliant with this complex process. By coaching the practice in addressing the threat of legal action and ensuring they complied with the process, we helped reduce the risk of any potential legal action. The staff member left amicably on the grounds of ill health.

A partner at the practice said: 'The advice was very helpful and supportive as we had never dealt with a situation like this before at the practice. The adviser explained things in simple terms which was easy for us to follow.'

Poor health can be distressing for an employee and a manager to deal with, so you must seek specialist HR advice from us when navigating your specific case.

The BMA's advisers have many years of experience supporting and guiding its members through a legally compliant process, coaching members through approaching difficult conversations, and assisting with any queries or concerns, turning problems into solutions. The price of the service is covered by the BMA membership fee. If your GP partner is a member, get in touch.

If your GP partner is not a member, find out more and join the BMA