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Tribunal rules "long COVID" is a disability under the Equality Act

In the case of Burke v Turning Point Scotland, a Scottish employment tribunal has ruled that an employee who was dismissed from his role as charity caretaker should be permitted to bring a case of disability discrimination against his former employer. 

The employee, Mr Burke, had been suffering with "substantial and long-term" side effects after contracting COVID in November 2020. He could not walk to the nearby shop, needed help with cooking, and shopping, had difficulty concentrating and also had disturbed sleep. The symptoms were considered "substantial" even though their severity varied day-to-day and likely to be "long-term" on the basis that they were capable of lasting 12 months or more. They therefore qualified as a disability under the Equality Act 2010. 

Mr Burke is the first person in the UK to successfully claim that long COVID is a disability but he is unlikely to be the last and this case is likely to result in an increase in claims from employees suffering like Mr Burke. The ruling is not binding and does not mean every long COVID sufferer will be disabled - but it could be relied upon to strengthen the cases of some of the estimated two million people in the UK currently living with long COVID, many of whom will be employed and/or signed off on long-term sick leave. 

On the face of it, it does seem likely that many people with long COVID will satisfy the definition of disability as the symptoms of long COVID are often long-lasting and adversely affect individuals' day-to-day activities. The most common reported long COVID symptoms were fatigue (55%), followed by shortness of breath (32%), a cough (23%), and muscle ache (23%). 

The ruling has led employment experts to suggest it could lead to a “snowballing” in the number of claims, with figures released last month showing more than two million people in the UK are thought to be living with long Covid.


covid-19, employment