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Returning to work
Returning to work

 

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If you have long COVID, you might still have problems with:

These problems can affect your day-to-day life and your ability to work. After being unwell with COVID, going back to work can be difficult and it may take a long time before you feel ready.

Work is generally good for your health and wellbeing, even if you have a health condition or still have problems after COVID. You should talk to your employer about how they can support your return to work.

Early treatment of your symptoms and learning to manage your energy levels will make it easier to carry out daily activities at home and at work. This will help with your recovery and your return to work. You can see your GP or a long COVID clinic team for help with your symptoms.

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When is the right time to go back to work if I have long COVID?

This will depend on your health problems and what your job involves. Studies show that you do not need to wait until you are ‘100% fit’ to return to work because work itself helps you to recover.

A good time to start thinking about returning to work could be when:

  • Your symptoms have stayed the same or improved slightly over a period of time
  • You can manage your symptoms
  • You can carry out everyday activities, such as showering and eating, without your symptoms getting worse

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What can I do if I am feeling ready to go back to work?

Firstly, being able to recognise what you can and cannot do is a good place to start. If you are starting to think about returning to work, you could try doing something you do at work at home instead for a short time, such as reading, using a computer or walking.

This will allow you to:

  • Build strength and stamina
  • Learn how to manage your symptoms and energy

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Talk to your line manager or the occupational health (OH) team at your workplace

If you have been off sick with COVID and you are ready to go back to work, it is recommended that you meet with your manager or the OH team at your workplace to create a Return-To-Work plan together.

During the meeting you could:

  • Explain current symptoms or difficulties
  • Describe any activities that you find hard to do
  • Discuss your Return-To-Work plan – this might include a ‘phased’ return and any possible adjustments

You could prepare for a meeting by thinking about:

  • What tasks you feel well enough to do?
  • What activities make your symptoms worse?
  • What adjustments to your role or working environment might help you return to work?

Talking about health problems can be difficult, but this will help your employer create a Return-To-Work plan that is appropriate for you and that supports you.

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A ‘phased’ return

If you are still experiencing some problems after COVID, you might want to consider a ‘phased’ return. This means going back to work in steps so you can slowly build back up to what you used to do. This is strongly recommended if you have long COVID and if you have been unable to work for even a few weeks. This might include:

  • Working part-time or reduced hours at first
  • Doing different duties
  • Doing parts of your job that you can do

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Possible adjustments to your work

You should also consider possible adjustments to your work. Adjustments are changes to your workplace or job that make it easier and safer for you to return to work and do your job.

Examples of adjustments are:

  • A ramp to make entering a building easier
  • Equipment such as a special desk or chair
  • Extra support to do your job
  • Time off to attend health appointments
  • Shorter working days
  • Different start and finish times or shift patterns
  • Working from home
  • Altered patterns of working (for example, more frequent breaks)
  • Making any physical, mental, or cognitive tasks less demanding
  • Changes to workload (for example, fewer or less complex tasks)

When you return to work with long COVID, it is important to start small to avoid any duties that make your condition worse. This way you will be more likely to move forwards with your recovery.

When you first return to work, your manager should inform you of any important changes since you have been off. They should also carry out an updated workplace risk assessment with you to check that your health changes do not put you or your colleagues at risk.

You may wish to take a union representative or someone you trust to meetings with your manager or OH.

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What should I do if my current ability cannot be accommodated by my workplace?

If your current ability cannot be accommodated by your workplace, you should consider returning to work later on. Instead, you can use other activities or tasks as practice for going back to work. This might include:

  • Attending virtual or face-to-face appointments
  • Attending rehab classes or completing home exercises
  • Monitoring your symptoms (for example, completing an activity diary)
  • Applying for welfare benefits and seeking advice

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Once I am back at work with long COVID, what can I do to aid my recovery and stay well?

While you are recovering, it is recommended to revisit your Return-To-Work plan with your manager once a month. Fatigue is a common symptom of long COVID, therefore it is important to be sure that you are feeling well enough before increasing your duties or working hours. If your symptoms begin to get consistently worse, further adjustments or further sickness absence may be needed.

You should also be careful to not to get too hot and to drink plenty of fluids.

If you have any symptoms that get worse with exertion, avoid heavy work until you have seen an OH specialist.

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How can I prepare for my return to work?

If you feel ready to return to work, you should start to think about the tasks you have at work and their demands. This will let you assess what you can and cannot currently manage.

  • Do you carry heavy loads?
  • Is it repetitive?
  • Do you need to work quickly?
  • Do you have set times to rest?
  • Are you managing multiple tasks at once?

Gradually increase your day-to-day activities and note how long it took for you to complete an activity. This can help you to discuss an appropriate Return-To-Work plan with your manager.

Learn to assess your recovery. You can use a fatigue score to track your progress and to recognise any patterns. A reasonable recovery should:

  • Last no longer than a few hours
  • Allow you to continue with day-to-day tasks
  • Not lead to an increase in symptoms

During your preparation, you might still have some bad days and you might not always know why. During these days, it is okay for you to do less or to pause your preparation. It is important for you to focus on remaining well.

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What can I do if I am not feeling ready to go back to work?

Talk to your line manager or the OH team at your workplace

Speak to your manager and explain your symptoms and why you do not feel ready to go back to work.

Some workplaces have an OH department. The OH team looks after health and wellbeing at work. They can advise on how your health may affect your work and any adjustments you might need to allow you to return to work without making your symptoms worse.

Having an appointment with the OH team before you go back to work can be a useful step. They can support you to create a Return-To-Work plan that includes adjustments and your needs and can write to your manager, with your permission.

If your employer does not have an OH department, you could ask them to find you an OH specialist from outside your workplace.

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Talk to a healthcare professional

Speak to your GP or another healthcare professional, explain your symptoms and why you do not feel ready to go back to work. You can find a local healthcare professional at https://vrassociationuk.com.

Your employer might have an OH team, and you can talk to them about how you feel and if you are worried.

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Get in touch with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)

ACAS is a national organisation that offers free advice about your health at work.

Phone the free advice line 0300 123 1100.

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Get in touch with Access to Work

Access to Work is a national programme that offers practical and financial support for you to get or stay in work.

Phone the advice line 0800 121 7479.

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Get a fit note

A fit note from your GP or hospital doctor can tell your employer that you need a period of sickness absence due to being unwell with long COVID and to access Statutory Sick Pay.

The fit note will explain activities you find difficult to do due to long COVID and suggest adjustments that may help you return to work.

Your employer is not obliged to act on these suggestions (as they may not be able to), but the fit note can be a useful starting point to discuss your return to work with your manager.

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