Two Bedford Borough Council care workers say they are relying on food banks to survive after the council stopped paying them due to absences caused by long Covid.
The pair had used up all their sick pay allowance but their union Unite says this case raises serious issues for other UK workplaces.
And it has called for council bosses to pay its two members full sick pay while they recover - a discretion that is allowed under the ‘Green Book’ national agreement.
Unite regional officer Richard Gates said: “We will not allow this heartless treatment of our members to stand, as they are being penalised for becoming sick from long Covid after years of dedicated service
“The impact of long Covid has resulted in both members having days when they can’t even get out of bed, brain fog, no energy, and breathlessness, so the last thing they need on top of this is the stress and worry of having no money and the prospect of being taken through the sickness absence procedure over being off from work.
“It is not right that they are relying on food banks and benefits to survive.
“The impact of long Covid on employees in UK workplaces is going to be a growing issue in 2022 and Unite will be fighting to ensure our members don’t pay the price of this terrible disease, through no fault of their own, whether it is losing income, or even possibly their jobs.”
The two Bedford council workers contracted Covid at the end of 2020 and have both been off sick since with a diagnosis of long Covid, which followed an outbreak at their workplace resulting in 30 per cent of the staff group testing positive.
Mr Gates added: “These two committed care workers continued to deliver essential respite care and support to the most vulnerable children and young people during the pandemic for the council. However, they contracted Covid-19, which, unfortunately, has developed into long Covid. They are now under the care of a specialist Covid clinic.
“They have worked for the council for many years, and in one case for nearly 30 years. They should be supported by their employer at this time of financial difficulty, a discretion given to the council by the ‘Green Book’ national agreement – but council bosses are refusing to exercise this discretion for these employees.
“It’s a shame that they do not work at the nearby hospital, where the Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust do the right thing by paying staff off work with long Covid full pay in recognition of the effects of this little known and draining condition. It is about time the council treated its employees the same way that our local NHS trust does.”
A Bedford Borough Council spokesperson said: “The council is unable to comment on specific cases and this is being managed through our internal processes.
“However, the council’s policy not to extend sickness pay is to ensure fairness and consistency at all times in managing cases of sickness absence, regardless of the reason.
“Long Covid cases are managed with sensitivity taking into account the medical evidence, advice from Occupational Health and speaking with the employee.”