Long COVID and return to work: a qualitative study

Occup Med (Lond). 2024 Feb 19;74(1):29-36. doi: 10.1093/occmed/kqac119.


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to an increasing number of patients with 'long COVID'. Long COVID is the persistence of symptoms for weeks or months after an infection by SARS-CoV-2. It often impacts on the professional life of affected people.

Aims: The aim of this study is to understand the experiences and needs of people with long COVID in relation to their return to work.

Methods: A qualitative study, combining individual interviews and online forum discussions, was performed early 2021, as part of a larger mixed method study on the needs of long COVID patients in Belgium.

Results: One hundred and thirty-four people participated in the study. Participants described various clinical symptoms precluding their return to work. They also face sceptical reactions from employers and colleagues and a lack of support from the social welfare system to facilitate their return to work. These barriers have various impacts, including psychological ones, likely to compromise the professional future of long COVID patients.

Conclusions: While the analysis of patients' experiences shows variation in long COVID patients' experiences with return to work, it may help occupational physicians and healthcare practitioners to better take up their crucial role in the return to work of long COVID patients, including raising employers' and colleagues' awareness of the specific difficulties related to long COVID.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Post-Acute COVID-19 Syndrome
  • Qualitative Research
  • Return to Work* / psychology
  • SARS-CoV-2