What is the test and trace service? 

Those who have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) are required to self-isolate for seven days and request a test to find out if they have coronavirus (COVID-19). If they test positive they will have contact from the NHS test and trace service asking them to share details of those they have been in close contact with. The NHS test and trace service will alert those identified and advise them to self-isolate for 14 days even if they do not have symptoms.

What is the impact on the workplace? 

There is no doubt that the test and trace service will result in more workers having to self-isolate. 

The government has published the NHS test and trace workplace guidance which states that it is vital that employers play their part by making their workplaces as safe as possible and encourage workers to heed any notifications to self-isolate.

Workers now returning to work must face the real risk of coming into contact with a colleague who has coronavirus (COVID-19) and being required to self-isolate as a result. Employers will therefore need to be rigorous in their risk assessments to ensure social distancing measures are not only in place but are regularly reviewed if they are to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) to workers. Employers should also consult with workers and union representatives to ensure that preventative measures and the COVID secure guidance (see LELR 672) is implemented and followed.

As part of their duty to reduce the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19) spreading in the workplace, employers should also ensure workers who self-isolate are properly paid. The guidance makes clear that ‘employers should support workers who need to self-isolate and must not ask them to attend the workplace.’ A failure to properly support those who self-isolate by failing to pay them during the 14 day period of isolation may deter workers from self-isolating, putting employers not only in breach of their statutory health and safety obligations and duty of care but also at risk of placing workers in serious and imminent danger.

Although the statutory sick pay regulations have been amended - so that those who have been advised to self-isolate because they are contacts of someone who has coronavirus (COVID-19) are entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) – the reality is that at just £95.85 a week workers are unlikely, for financial reasons, to voluntarily self-isolate if SSP is all they will receive. Zero hours workers who do not qualify for SSP are also unlikely to self-isolate.

Employers will therefore need to do more to encourage workers who are contacts of someone who has coronavirus (COVID-19) and who do have not symptoms, to voluntarily self-isolate. The guidance states that a worker who is self-isolating who can work from home ‘must do so’ with the agreement of the employer. It also goes further by placing an onus on employers to find ‘alternative work that can be completed at home.’ 

For the many workers who cannot work from home employers could encourage self-isolation by paying them in line with any contractual enhanced sick pay policy. Alternatively, if workers are willing and able to work but cannot because they have been notified to self-isolate, the employer could treat them as suspended on health and safety grounds and continue to pay them full pay. Another option could be to furlough zero hours workers on a rotating system as the minimum period required to be furloughed is currently three weeks and this would cover the 14 days self-isolation period.

The guidance suggests that employers should allow those required to self-isolate to take paid holiday entitlement. However, some workers may not have enough paid holiday to be able to do this and, as we have pointed out in LELR 673, if the worker is unwell an employer cannot require the worker to take holiday if they are off sick.

The risks of not having sufficient payment systems in place which would encourage workers who are contacts of someone with coronavirus (COVID-19) to self-isolate could compromise health and safety in the workplace. 

Employers should negotiate with workers and trade unions on the best measures they can put in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the workplace including properly paying those who have to self-isolate. The risks of not doing so are likely to be significant and would increase the prospect of claims against them by anyone who becomes ill as a result of that failure. 

You can read the NHS test and trace workplace guidance in full here.  

You can read how the NHS test and trace works here.

You can read the coronavirus (COVID-19) secure workplace guidance in full here.

Articles shared by Thompsons relating to coronavirus (COVID-19) are correct at the time of publication. You should check the government's guidelines for the latest information and advice at https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus.