Terence Burke was dismissed from his job as a charity caretaker following around nine months absent from work due to exhaustion.
The exhaustion started shortly after he contracted Covid-19 in November 2020, leaving him unable to complete day-to-day tasks such as household chores. This exhaustion is said to be a substantial and long-term side effect from Covid-19 and as such, classed as ‘Long Covid.’
The Employment Tribunal ruled that Burke’s condition amounted to a disability under the Equality Act and gave him permission to bring a case of disability discrimination against his former employer. This makes him the first person to successfully claim that Long Covid should be classed as a disability.
Burke will now bring his claim of disability discrimination, amongst others, to a final tribunal hearing.
Employers are urged to make note of this case and think carefully about how they manage any sickness absence cases caused by Long Covid (or what could potentially be classed as Long Covid).
One important point to note from Burke’s case is that due to the strict social distancing restrictions that were in place at the time, he was unable to attend face-to-face GP appointments. In disability claims, medical evidence (obtained from face-to-face GP appointments) is usually crucial, and it is the claimant’s responsibility to provide this evidence, to prove that they have a disability. In this case, the Employment Tribunal considered the circumstances preventing Burke from attending GP appointments thus obtaining medical evidence and decided to accept the minimal medical evidence that he presented.
It is also important to note that not all Long Covid cases will follow Burke’s case ruling and be classed as a disability, each case will be assessed on its own merits. Further, as this is an Employment Tribunal decision (not an Employment Appeal Tribunal decision), Tribunals dealing with future cases do not need to follow the ruling.