In this guidance, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) points out the importance of managers in helping employees to return to work after acute COVID-19 or long COVID. The guide sets out the steps that managers should take to give their workers the best chance of getting back to work and staying in work.
It covers making contact with the employee, arranging a phased return and discussing adjustments to the worker’s duties and schedules to enable them to cope. The guide also outlines the support that is available for managers from occupational health services and human resources.
Workers will require different levels of support depending on their role and any ongoing symptoms, so listening to their needs and checking in regularly are key it says.
While there is still lots to learn about the impact of COVID-19, it is known that:
One in five people has symptoms after four weeks, and 1 in 10 has symptoms for 12 weeks or longer. For some, symptoms may last many months.
Symptoms can be unpredictable and fluctuate over time.
Common symptoms include extreme fatigue, breathlessness, muscle and joint pain, chest pain and mental health problems.
Most workers with ongoing symptoms will need accommodations to be made in the workplace, but some may not.
The unpredictable and fluctuating nature of long COVID means that some workers may need to return to work gradually, over a long period of time — building up their work capacity.
Managers are often the first point of contact. The guide stresses that a manager must support the returning worker, listen to their concerns and act where possible.
The guidance sets out the following key steps when supporting a returning worker:
Step 1: stay in touch while the worker is absent from work.
Step 2: prepare for the worker’s return.
Step 3: have a return-to-work conversation.
Step 4: provide support during the early days after return to work.
Step 5: provide ongoing support and review regularly.
More information on each step is provided in the guide. It is available in full here.
EU-OSHA July 2021