The Government has today launched its test and trace system in England (and similar systems are in place in other regions of the UK).  Guidance for employers has been published here.  Key points for employers are:

  • Individuals who have been notified that they have had contact with an infected person and instructed to stay at home for 14 days under the new NHS test and trace system will also be deemed incapable of work and eligible for statutory sick pay.
  • Unless the notified individuals develop symptoms, individuals in their household will not have to self-isolate.
  • The guidance suggests that employers should allow self-isolating staff to take paid holiday instead of sick leave if they prefer, in order to receive full pay.
  • When someone first develops symptoms and orders a test, they will be encouraged to alert the people that they have had close contact with in the 48 hours before symptom onset. If any of those close contacts are co-workers, the person who has developed symptoms may wish to (but is not obliged to) ask their employer to alert those co-workers. At this stage, those close contacts should not self-isolate, but they:
    • must avoid individuals who are at high-risk of contracting COVID-19, for example, because they have pre-existing medical conditions, such as respiratory issues
    • must take extra care in practising social distancing and good hygiene and in watching out for symptoms.
  • If the person who has symptoms has a positive test result for COVID-19, the NHS test and trace service will ask them to share information about their close recent contacts. If they work in – or have recently visited or attended – one of the following settings, the contact tracing process will be escalated to local public health experts, who will liaise as necessary with the manager of the relevant setting:
    • a health or care setting, for instance a hospital or care home
    • a prison or other secure establishment
    • a school for children with special needs
    • any setting where there is a risk of a local outbreak.
  • In other cases, any non-household contacts who need to self-isolate will be contacted by the NHS test and trace service.
  • If multiple cases of coronavirus appear in a workplace, an outbreak control team from either the local authority or Public Health England will, if necessary, be assigned to help the employer manage the outbreak. Employers should seek advice from their local authority in the first instance.
  • The guidance also suggests that workers who think the contacts that have triggered notifications are workplace contacts should ask their employer to consider what further mitigating actions could be taken to reduce the risk of COVID-19, such as using screens to separate people or ‘cohorting’ to reduce the number of people each person has contact with.
  • The NHS test and trace service will provide a notification that an employee can use as evidence to inform their employer that they have been told to self-isolate pursuant to this service.  Employers will need this evidence if they are a small or medium sized employer claiming a rebate for SSP.

Client briefings

We have published a new client briefing on post-lockdown issues for employers, available here.

We have also developed a Toolkit to assist businesses prepare their own office-based risk assessments; please contact us if this is of interest.

Our latest briefing on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is available here.

Our COVID-19 hub containing more insights across a range of topics is here.