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Long Covid now major cause of long-term job absence, say quarter of UK employers Survey suggests

A support group for sufferers of long Covid says its members include many who have dropped out of professional jobs and are struggling to get by on basic benefits © Victoria Jones/PA

A quarter of UK employers say long Covid is now one of the main causes of long-term sickness absence among their staff, according to research that suggests the debilitating condition could be exacerbating labour shortages that are plaguing many parts of the economy.

A survey of 804 organisations, representing more than 4.3mn employees, found that one in four put it among the top three reasons for long-term absence, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said on Tuesday, while half had staff who had suffered from long Covid in the past 12 months.

Meanwhile, a fifth of employers said they did not know whether any of their staff had experienced continuing symptoms from the virus, suggesting the problem was underestimated as a workplace issue.

Rachel Suff, senior policy adviser for employment relations at the CIPD, the professional body for human resources, said alarm bells would be “starting to ring” for employers who were already struggling to fill vacancies and risked a significant loss of talent if those affected were unable to stay in work.

The survey adds to growing evidence that long-term health issues are adding to existing strains on a depleted UK workforce. Official data show the number of people who are not working or looking for a job due to long-term ill health has increased by 230,000 from pre-pandemic levels.

It is not clear how many of this group are suffering from long Covid and how many are affected by mental ill health or other chronic conditions. But Office for National Statistics figures show that 1.3mn people were reporting persistent symptoms of Covid at the start of 2022, and that almost a quarter of a million of them said their ability to undertake day-to-day activities was “limited a lot”.

The condition — whose symptoms range from fatigue, brain fog and short-term memory loss to breathlessness and changes in heart rate or blood pressure — is more prevalent among health and care workers and teachers, who were exposed to the virus in its early stages when diagnosis and treatment was lacking.

Surveys conducted by the Patient Led Resear