'Long Covid' Recognised as a Disability in Important Employment Ruling

Following recovery from the immediate effects of COVID-19, a substantial number of people have gone on to suffer from a phenomenon commonly known as 'long Covid'. In an important ruling, an Employment Tribunal (ET) found that the condition is capable of amounting to a disability within the meaning of Section 6 of the Equality Act 2010 (Burke v Turning Point Scotland).

The case concerned a charity worker who initially suffered mild, flu-like symptoms after contracting the virus. At the end of his isolation period, however, he continued to suffer from extreme fatigue, joint pain, lack of mobility, sleeplessness and general lack of energy. After he was off sick for some months, his employer dismissed him, with regret, on the basis that he remained too ill to return to work.

He subsequently launched ET proceedings, alleging, amongst other things, disability discrimination. The question of whether he was a disabled person within the meaning of Section 6 was considered as a preliminary issue.

Ruling in his favour on the point, the ET found him to be a credible witness. He said that the condition left him so exhausted after such mundane activities as showering and getting dressed that he needed to lie down. He had difficulty walking to his local shop to buy a newspaper and his concentration wavered to the extent that he struggled to read a book or watch TV without drifting off.

The condition had an adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day tasks. That effect was substantial in the sense of being more than minor or trivial. It was also long term in that it was likely to persist for a period of 12 months or more. The ET's ruling opened the way for him to pursue his claim to a full hearing.