ONE of the striking aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a dramatic rise in the need for good employment law advice and representation.

Concerns over the fairness of proposed redundancies, harassment or discrimination at work, the need to self-isolate, problems with sick pay and accessing the furlough scheme made up a quarter of 4,500 cases at Govan Law Centre (GLC) in 2020/21.

Some two-thirds of other GLC cases in Glasgow included worries about money and unmanageable debt, social security difficulties, fear of homelessness and financial hardship.

What challenges will 2021/22 present?

Lockdown restrictions ease up today as the whole of Scotland moves to “level 0’. Physical distancing will reduce to 1 metre in all indoor public settings and outdoors. A return to office working looks set from next month.

Returning to something closer to normality is very welcome, however, Covid-19 has left many legacies.

The loss of loved ones. The impact on jobs, businesses and the economy. The disruption to learning for school pupils and students at university and college.

The virus itself has created a legacy in the form of Long Covid. These are symptoms that can last many months after the infection has gone.

Symptoms can include extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, chest tightness, problems with memory (“brain fog”) and insomnia.

Research is ongoing into this new condition, and sadly there are no specialist NHS clinics in Scotland for Long Covid. That is something that will surely have to change.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated there were over one million people in the UK with Long Covid in May this year.

More recently, ONS estimated there could be as many as 89,000 people in Scotland with Long Covid.

The condition was most commonly found in women aged 35 to 69, and those living in more deprived areas. A government funded React-2 study last month found there could be a massive under reporting of Long Covid, with the true extent of the condition double that of ONS estimates.

What happens to workers with Long Covid who have to take prolonged sick leave?

Many employers do not offer any contractual sick pay at all. Statutory sick pay (SSP) is only paid for a maximum of six months at the rate of £96.35 per week. Thereafter employment support allowance may be available.

If you have Long Covid you should also consider applying for a personal independence payment (PIP). This is a social security benefit to help with the extra costs of a long-term health condition or disability.

You should seek free help from a welfare rights officer, law centre or CABx. Carer’s Allowance might also be available if a family member helps look after you.

Ill-health, a reduced income and worries about future job security will have a detrimental impact on mental wellbeing.

ACAS – the government-funded body the provides workplace dispute resolution – has some helpful advice for employers and workers on managing Long Covid sickness here: If you suffer from Long Covid and are worried about your job you can ask your employer to recognise that Long Covid is a new health condition that is subject to ongoing medical research and prognosis.

If you’re in a trade union seek out their support in negotiating with your employer. Many employers won’t be understanding or sympathetic about Long Covid, so you need to make sure you maximise your legal rights.

If you have been absent from work for a prolonged period because of Long Covid you may wish to argue that your health condition falls within the definition of a “disability” in the 2010 Equality Act.

Section 6 of the 2010 Act defines a disability as a “physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.

Schedule 1 of the Act defines “long-term” to include a condition that has lasted for a year or is likely to last for at least a year.

Long Covid may also exacerbate other pre-existing health conditions or disabilities that can bring a person within the statutory definition of disability.

If the 2010 Act applies, an employer has to consider what adjustments it can reasonably make to off-set any disadvantage a disabled person has in their workplace. That may mean allowing continued working from home, adjusting working hours or permitting a phased return to work.

While we have yet to see any reported employment tribunal cases involving Long Covid, there have been favourable decisions for those with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).

In Chief Constable of Dumfries & Galloway Constabulary v Adams the Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld a decision that an employee who suffered from ME was disabled. That was so despite the symptoms of ME varying between good and bad days.