Concern also raised over staff who have returned to the office with long-term symptoms but are ‘not performing at 100 per cent of pre-pandemic levels’
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that 26 per cent of companies now cite the condition as a main cause of long-term sickness absence, in a survey of 804 organisations that represent more than 4.3 million employees.
The CIPD said that 46 per cent of the organisations had employees that had experienced long Covid, which is associated with fatigue, brain fog and memory issues, and that more should be done to support workers with the condition.
“Long Covid remains a growing issue that employers need to be aware of, and they should take appropriate steps to support employees with the condition,” said Rachel Suff, senior policy adviser for employment relations at the CIPD.
Dr Elaine Maxwell, lead author of the ‘Living with Covid-19’ reviews conducted by the National Institute for Health Research, said the figures were the “canary in the mine” for the prevalence of long Covid in the UK.
However, she warned that, as a relapsing-remitting disorder, “measuring continuous absence will leave out a substantial number” of people living with long Covid.
“Many are back at work but not performing at 100 per cent of pre-pandemic levels,” she said. “This is part of the silent pandemic that will impede recovery in a range of industries.”
Estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that, as of 2 January, about 1.3 million people in the UK were suffering from persistent symptoms after becoming infected with the coronavirus.
More than 550,000 of these have been living with long Covid for at least 12 months, the ONS figures show, more than half of whom say the condition has impacted their ability to live a normal life.
The CIPD said that a fifth of employers didn’t know whether their workers were experiencing ongoing symptoms following Covid infection, and only 19 per cent provided guidance for employees about managing health conditions while at work.
“There’s a risk that those who experience ongoing long COVID symptoms may not get the support they need in the workplace and could even fall out of work,” Ms Suff said.
Responding to the research, Layla Moran MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, said: “While much of the focus of the past two years has been on fighting the pandemic, the government has paid almost no attention to the severe impact Long Covid will continue to have on both people and the economy.
“Long Covid presents a huge workforce challenge, it is crucial that the government recognise it as an occupational disease, provide formal guidance to employers and create a compensation scheme for key workers who are unable to return to work.”
The condition is most prevalent in people aged 35 to 69 years, women, people living in more deprived areas, those working in healthcare, social care, or teaching and education, and those with another activity-limiting health condition or disability, the ONS said.