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COVID-19 - Test and Trace: The Employer’s Perspective

18 September 2020

Jasmine Chadha

With schools re-opening and workers being actively encouraged to return to the workplace, many more people are expected to be on the move in autumn.  It’s highly likely then that an increasing number of individuals will be contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service and told to self-isolate.  

This could be very disruptive for employers, with staff being required to self-isolate at short notice.  Including appropriate measures in your ‘return to work’ policies and other communications with staff now, will help to ensure that such situations can be dealt with as smoothly as possible.  As more people will be in closer physical proximity to their colleagues, it is possible that you could have several members of staff needing to self-isolate at the same time. Indeed, the same individuals may be required to self-isolate on multiple, separate occasions causing further disruption.

What is the NHS Test and Trace Service?

Anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 should register via the NHS Test and Trace website and identify individuals they have recently been in “close” contact with.  Contact tracers then notify those considered to be at risk and ask them to self-isolate at home for 14 days, even if they do not have any COVID-19 symptoms.

What could this mean for staff?

If someone has been told to self-isolate, they will not be allowed to leave their home to travel to work.  If they have symptoms of coronavirus, they will need to get tested as soon as possible; and even if they don’t have any symptoms, they will still need to isolate for 14 days from when they were last in contact with the person who has coronavirus (as symptoms can appear later).  

If they test positive, they will need to self-isolate for at least 10 days from when their symptoms appeared, which means they could be required to self-isolate for longer than 14 days.  

What is close contact?

According to NHS Test and Trace guidance, those that have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 in the 48 hours before symptoms started will need to self-isolate.  This will include face-to-face contact (less than 1 metre away) or spending more than 15 minutes (within a 2 metre distance), with someone who has COVID-19.  This could potentially include several people within an office environment unless social distancing is strictly adhered to and measures put in place to have staff attending on a rotation system etc.  The guidance specifically excludes interaction that has taken place through a perspex screen or similar separation so this may be something to consider when planning your workspaces.

So here are some issues you should be thinking about and planning for now:

1. Ensure social distancing is correctly adhered to in the workplace by having robust policies in place and communicating instructions clearly and in a straightforward manner to staff

2. Ask employees to immediately inform you if they are notified by the NHS service to self-isolate – failing to do so could put others at risk and may amount to misconduct

3. Make sure you have up to date contact details for all staff

4. If you operate a shift pattern, maintain accurate records of these for 21 days so you can assist the NHS Test and Trace Scheme

5. Ask employees to provide a copy of the formal notification from the NHS, or an isolation note, which you will need to claim any rebate for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

6. Remember, employees who are asked to self-isolate and cannot work from home are entitled to receive SSP from day one

7. You might be able to make a claim under the Coronavirus SSP rebate scheme if your organisation meets the criteria

8. Do you have viable contingency plans in place to cover critical tasks if multiple unexpected absences occur, or if staff have to leave the premises immediately?

9. Check whether your data protection policies and privacy notices permit you to collect the data you require and notify staff of any necessary amendments 

10. Do your homeworking policies have sufficient provisions built in for monitoring productivity, providing necessary office equipment, carrying out home workstation risk assessments etc.?

11. If you are in the hospitality, tourism or leisure industries, you should be collecting information about any customers or visitors to the site and who they had close contact with - again, make sure you comply with data protection requirements when doing this

12. If there is more than one COVID-19 outbreak at your workplace, alert your local health protection team urgently

As staff are encouraged to return to the workplace, we are ready to assist with getting your business as well prepared as possible for the myriad of issues that might arise.

Contact your usual 3CS contact for more information.

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