19 February 2021
PM urged to declare ‘long Covid’ an ‘occupational disease’ and pay compensation to frontline staff
Kathryn Fielder, employment lawyer at B P Collins, features in the Daily Mail discussing the urges for the PM to declare 'long Covid' an 'occupational disease' and pay compensation to frontline staff who say they can't return to work because they have sore feet, weak legs and smell 'fake' odours. Click here for the full article.
The World Health Organisation’s definition of occupational disease is …"any disease contracted primarily as a result of an exposure to risk factors arising from work activity”.
Historically, that would have covered conditions such as asthma, dermatitis or vibration white finger. Such conditions have been the subject of litigation going back many years and it was always necessary as a first step, if the claimant suffered from the condition, to show that it was caused by work in some way. Victims would be compensated if they could show that work was indeed the cause.
A group of MPs have asked the government to officially recognise Long Covid as an occupational disease, as has been done in several European countries, as well as provide financial compensation to its victims, who have been financially impacted by it.
If the government agrees, will it lead to employee claims?
If the government commits to making the fund available, it should not be necessary for there to be employee “claims” against employers. The application process should be straightforward and just a case of completing some paperwork, perhaps with a medical report in support. However, it remains to be seen whether the application process is in fact straightforward or whether it will be so complicated that the likelihood of success might depend on the quality of the application. Applications may also be potentially challenged if there are question marks over exactly how the virus was contracted.
In addition, it is not clear whether this is designed to cover all key workers or only those in the public sector. What about those employees who work in the private sector, such as those in the private care and education sectors? In such circumstances it may be necessary for those impacted by Long Covid to actually bring claims against their private sector employers, in which case, if the condition is already recognised as being an occupational disease i.e. “caused by work” this would help them in making a claim.
This could lead to pressure on employers in the private sector as they may struggle to settle the raft of claims that may come their way, especially if their insurers argue that this is not covered by their policies.
We await further information on this but it is possible that if the government agrees to Long Covid being recognised as an occupational disease, there will be further claims both in the public and private sectors as victims of Long Covid seek compensation for their losses.