Covid-19 is a new strain of coronavirus which primarily affects the respiratory system. It is spread through cough and sneeze droplets, which also land and remain on surfaces and can be passed on indirectly in this manner. It affects people of all ages, although elderly people are most at risk from developing serious symptoms. Around 400,000 people in the UK have, or have had Covid-19 (figure correct for week commencing 21st September 2020).

What are the signs and symptoms of Covid-19?

Covid-19 causes the person to experience flu-like symptoms in the two weeks following their infection. Most people with the virus have one of the following symptoms:

  • Fever 
  • A new, continuous cough
  • A loss of smell and/or taste, or a change in these senses

It is important to get a free test as soon as one of these symptoms is experienced, as someone with Covid-19 will be required to self-isolate until they are deemed no longer infectious and they may require further medical attention depending on the severity of symptoms.

More serious symptoms, requiring emergency medical attention, include:

  • Difficulty breathing and tight-chestedness
  • Inability to eat and drink normally.

How does Covid-19 get diagnosed and treated?

Tests are available on the NHS for people with Covid-19 symptoms and under certain other conditions. They usually involve a throat and nasal swab to determine the presence of the virus in the person’s respiratory system.

An antibody test can also tell someone if they have already had the virus by identifying antibodies in the blood (cells produced by the immune system when fighting infection and which remain present so that the same infection can be fought more easily if it is contracted again, however it is not known whether a person is necessarily protected from Covid-19 if they have already had it).

If symptoms are not too severe, it will be possible to treat them at home while self-isolating for two weeks (the time during which someone is infectious).

For a fever, the person should rest, drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration and take paracetamol. 

For a cough, it is recommended that the person avoid lying on their back.

For breathlessness, staying relaxed, sitting upright and focusing on breathing slowly and steadily is the recommendation.

Symptoms that cannot be managed at home will require urgent medical attention.

There are a few ways to determine whether an employee returning to work after having had Covid-19 might require reasonable adjustments:

An employee cannot work while they have symptoms, or for at least two weeks after diagnosis, as Covid-19 is highly contagious.

Their usual place of work may not be open, depending on the nature of their work (whether they are considered a key worker) and what the current government advice is.

There is no legal obligation for an employee to tell their employer about their Covid-19. However, an employer can ask indirect questions to determine whether their employee will require any adjustments in the workplace, or more direct questions should the employee choose to disclose their condition.

What reasonable adjustments are possible for employees who have had Covid-19?

Employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees who have had Covid-19 if they know, are aware of, or could ‘reasonably be expected to know’ that the employee has had Covid-19 and they are suffering long-term adverse effects once no longer infectious and able to return to work. Most employees will tell their employer what reasonable adjustments they need. They often involve simple changes in the way an employer might usually do things.

It is particularly important that employees disclose conditions which could be exacerbated by Covid-19, such as asthma, as additional reasonable adjustments can thus be made to protect the employee from Covid-19 at work.

If the employee does not disclose a health issue or disability which may affect their performance up front, an employer should broach the subject sensitively if they suspect that there may be a disability behind the employee’s reduced performance. Reasonable adjustments can then be made in accordance with the employee’s needs, including, in the case of Covid-19:

  • Accommodating home or remote working: this is a common recommendation for all employees currently, as for a lot of workers, remote working is possible and can help reduce the spread of Covid-19. This may also be recommended if an employee has an existing condition which could be worsened upon contracting Covid-19 and also if the employee is experiencing post-viral fatigue or other symptoms after their Covid-19 recovery. It is important that employees requiring reasonable adjustments for an existing disability receive the correct equipment, etc. during periods of obligatory home-working.
  • Flexible working hours: to allow the employee to attend appointments and to allow them to break if their post-viral symptoms (the extent of which in the case of Covid-19 are not yet known as it is too soon in the current pandemic for medical studies to have been comprehensive).
  • Raising awareness so that colleagues understand the importance of hand-washing, wearing face coverings and keeping distance from other employees in the workplace during the Covid-19 pandemic. Awareness is also crucial to allow employees exempt from wearing face coverings to continue with their work without risk of being singled out by colleagues for allegedly failing to follow guidance, etc.
  • The appropriate remuneration for anyone required to stay at home for health reasons to protect them from Covid-19, such as people with severe asthma. If the furlough scheme is no longer applicable, then the employer should assess whether long-term sick leave or disability leave is appropriate for the at-risk employee in question.

Covid-19 Signposting – the UK Government’s site for information, advice and guidance on Covid-19, including prevention methods, latest local lockdown restrictions, information for employees, travel advice and how to get a test.

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