While most of the patients suffering from “acute” COVID-19 would recover fully in a maximum period a four weeks’ time, other will experience long-term after-effects. When existing symptoms may last longer than expected or new ones develop following the “acute” COVID-19 infection, we refer to “ongoing” symptomatic COVID-19 (from four to twelve weeks). In certain cases, this could also lead to more chronic conditions, usually identified as “Post COVID-19” syndrome (when signs and symptoms continue for more than twelve weeks). For simplicity, we will use “long-COVID” definition to describe signs and symptoms that continue to develop after “acute” COVID-19. It includes both “ongoing symptomatic” and “post-COVID-19” syndrome.
Even people who did not have symptoms when they were infected can have long-COVID. These conditions can have different types and combinations of health problems for different lengths of time. They can last for months and impact significantly both the physical and mental health of the patient as well as their ability to cope.
What should organisations consider managing return-to-work for long-COVID employees? How can employers ensure a safe work environment despite long-COVID risks? How long-COVID can impact employees’ productivity and business continuity? A variety of questions and doubts subsist for organisations on how to approach and manage effectively this emerging and concerning phenomenon.
HR preparedness & long absenteeism
With this emerging concern that long-COVID is, Human Resources professionals must be prepared to respond efficiently, both addressing long-COVID employee’s concerns and needs and ensuring a safe work environment for their overall workforce. Some preventive measures can be considered to help ensuring a smooth return to work despite the long-COVID threat.
- Align your HR policies - Long-COVID can imply long absenteeism, resulting from the patient difficulty to cope. Hence long absenteeism needs to be covered in your HR policies with clear directions for such situations. Although is not a legal requirement yet to have it included as part of your official policies, this might evolve rapidly, varying from a country to another. Ensure to remain informed on the latest legal regulations and requirement on this matter to stay compliant. Policies will need regular review and adaptation to reflect the latest evolvements. In a longer-term future, as we will learn more on long-COVID and its implications, this might be considered as a chronic condition for more serious cases and hence be formally included as such in the HR policies as any other disability or chronic disease. Consulting services will help you identify and adapt your current policies in place accordingly, to fully cover the long-COVID challenges.
- Educate and communicate about long-COVID – Make sure your people are aware of what the long-COVID condition and associated symptoms could be (1). This will help them be diagnosed at an early stage. The education process could be implemented internally through email or other education material such as webinars. Talk to our medical experts to get all the essential insights. Encourage your workforce to notify their long-COVID condition so you can have it in consideration in your return-to-operation process.
- Monitor the workplace – Inform your people on the required preventive measures to adopt in the work environment (social distances, masks, vaccines) and ensure those are followed by regularly checking. You might also want to consider implementing testing procedures at your premises as well as Occupational Health on-site solutions to address any concerns. Staffing solutions are an efficient way to do so.
Support your long-COVID employees
Part of your employer Duty of Care, providing an easy access to quality care treatment for your long-COVID employees is crucial. Should there be for a simple question on their condition or a need for medical assistance, ensure your employees can have access to qualified medical professionals at any time. Our 24/7 Global Assistance Centres, combine with a global network of accredited providers, enables access to the best possible expertise for any question or emergency.
Reinforce your mental health & wellbeing agenda
Mental health and emotional struggles are the most important stigma of the COVID-19 pandemic. If individuals who suffered from COVID-19 recovered, they still have higher probabilities to experience emotional health issue. There is even a higher risk for people with long-COVID. Make sure your people’s emotional needs are addressed by dedicated experts through an appropriate Employee Assistance Programme. Employees should be provided with a route to confidentially discuss their emotional health issues away from their direct managers and teams. This could be with HR or independent expert support activated by the company and should be communicated widely and consistently. Counselling support services will help you assist your workforce encountering psychological issues.