Dealing with Long-Covid – a guide to employers - Part 2 of 5

Scenario 2: Employee returns after long COVID but is underperforming

Alan has had coronavirus and has returned to work. While most days he says that feels okay, it soon becomes clear to his line manager Sandra that he is not performing to his pre-coronavirus levels and his work is not up to the required standards. Sue has an informal meeting with him to discuss performance concerns.  During the meeting, Alan explains that his poor performance is down to the after-effects of coronavirus.

What the employer should do: -

In the first instance, it is important to have clear information about the nature of Alan’s condition and prognosis.

An employee whose performance suffers as a result of coronavirus should be dealt with sensitively. However, if Alan's performance is affected by his health - whether long COVID or the mental health consequences of his illness - then ideally the employer should arrange for an occupational health assessment to identify the nature of the problem and what steps can be taken to deal with it. If the assessment indicates that this is likely to be a short-term problem, then the employer should be patient and consider making a temporary reasonable adjustment based on the recommendations from the medical report.  These may include changes to Alan's workload, hours, or measures to be put in place to support him while his recovery continues.

Making reasonable adjustments

If it becomes clear that the performance issues are long-term then Sandra as his line manager should try to identify with Alan the specific issues leading to the poor performance.  This isn’t always easy.  However, if for example, the problem is fatigue, then the employer might consider adjusting Alan's working pattern to take account of this. Such measures may also go towards meeting the employer's duty to make reasonable adjustments should Alan's condition be serious enough to amount to a disability. 

Dismissal for poor performance

Ultimately, as an employer you are entitled to have an employee perform to an appropriate standard. An employee, falling below the required standard means that the employer is entitled to engage in a performance management process. Which, after exhausting the formal procedure, could ultimately result in terminating Alan’s contract with notice on the grounds of capability. Provided the employer has done all that it could to help Alan reach the appropriate standard, and can show that the standard being applied is fair overall then the dismissal should be fair and not amount to unlawful discrimination.

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