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Impacts of Long COVID on workers: A longitudinal study of employment exit, work hours and mental health in the UK

Reuschke, Darja; Houston, Donald; Sissons, Paul


Darja Reuschke

Donald Houston


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has had enormous implications for the world of work. However, there has been relatively little focus on the employment and workforce challenges of the virus in relation to workforce health, beyond the immediate management of the spread of the disease. There is an important gap in understanding the ongoing workforce issues created by the significant incidence of Long COVID in the population. Aim: This paper examines the effects of Long COVID on employment and workers’ mental health to contribute to understanding of work-limiting health conditions and to offer policy implications for COVID-19 and similar health conditions on employment and the workforce. Methods: A large national panel study for the UK is used to estimate the likelihood of exiting employment as well as on changes in working hours and general mental health and happiness of those who remain in work. The sample includes individuals 16 years and older who were in employment in January/February 2020 and followed during the pandemic 2020–2021. Long COVID is self-reported in the data. Informed by conceptual consideration of employment protection in the UK, two groups of individuals with Long COVID are defined based on the duration of symptoms. Group 1 has Long COVID 5–28 weeks after an infection with COVID-19, which is up to the maximum length of Statutory Sick Pay in the UK. Group 2 has symptoms for 29+ weeks, which is beyond the statutory entitlement to sickness pay. Panel regression models are fitted both with fixed-effects and random-effects. Individual and job characteristics are used as controls Those with no COVID-19 symptoms are the reference group. Results: In between-person comparison, Group 2 is at higher risk of exiting employment compared to those with no COVID-19 symptoms. Between-person estimates of mental health and well-being show negative effects of Long COVID for both groups but these are greatest in Group 2. Within-person estimates suggest that factors associated with earnings mediate the negative Long COVID effects on mental health in Group 1 and that Group 2 adapts to working with Long COVID. Group 1 is at risk of working zero hours (i.e. being on sick leave) but neither Group 1 nor Group 2 have a higher probability of working fewer hours compared to those with no COVID-19 symptoms. The negative impact of Long COVID on working hours stems primarily from working zero hours (sickness leave) rather than working fewer hours, suggesting a lack of accommodation by employers of Long COVID at work. Policy implications: The extension of Statutory Sickness Pay and greater flexibility to manage partial (returns to) work would help preserve employment and mental health. Those with Long COVID for 12 months are likely to meet the definition of disability and so have a right to receive reasonable workplace adjustments.


Reuschke, D., Houston, D., & Sissons, P. (2024). Impacts of Long COVID on workers: A longitudinal study of employment exit, work hours and mental health in the UK. PLoS ONE, 19(6), Article e0306122.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 11, 2024
Online Publication Date Jun 26, 2024
Publication Date Jun 26, 2024
Deposit Date Jun 18, 2024
Publicly Available Date Jun 26, 2024
Journal PLOS ONE
Publisher Public Library of Science (PLoS)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 19
Issue 6
Article Number e0306122
Public URL


Manuscript Accepted (95 Kb)


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Copyright Statement
The final version of this accepted manuscript and all relevant information related to it, including copyrights, can be found on the publisher website.

© 2024 Reuschke et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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