NHS Test and Trace for COVID 19 – what employers need to know
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You may have seen conflicting messages in the news recently about when a Test and Trace App may become available for use in the UK. However, the manual NHS Test and Trace system, using contact tracers to track down information about contacts of infected people, has been up and running since 28th May 2020 and looks to be here for a while.

As an employer, it is important that you are aware of the system, how it might affect your business, and what you need to do to minimise any impact of staff being told to self-isolate. There have been reports that Test and Trace could contribute to an increase in workplace disputes, and even tribunals, especially where employees are exposed at work to an infected person, not to mention the impact on your business of having several employees self-isolating at once.

What is Test and Trace and how does it work?

Anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus can now be tested to find out if they have the virus. If they get a positive test result, they will be contacted by the Test and Trace service. They will be asked to share details of people they have had close recent contact with and the places they have visited.

Contact tracers will then, where necessary, get in touch with those contacts and notify them that they need to self-isolate for 14 days from their last contact with the infected person, even if they have no symptoms themselves, all to help stop the spread of the virus.
The individual who needs to self isolate will be provided with evidence by the Test and Trace service that you can ask for to confirm the need to self-isolate and also to support Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) claims.

Preparing your business for Test and Trace

Although numbers of coronavirus infections are currently falling, in the first two weeks of the manual Test and Trace service, contact tracers contacted over 87,000 people to ask them to self- isolate for 14 days because they had been in contact with an infected person.

Whilst an employee cannot be forced to disclose if they have been contacted by the Test and Trace service and asked to self-isolate, it is clearly in everyone’s interests that they do so, and our expectation is that most will.

There are a number of things you can do to prepare, and to reduce the risk to your business of one of your employees being contacted to self-isolate for 14 days:

Carry out and regularly review your Risk Assessment

Before staff return to the workplace you need to make sure that you have carried out a comprehensive risk assessment that you have shared with staff, and which can identify measures that you can take to reduce the risk of the spread of any Covid 19 infection.

This could involve social distancing and hygiene measures, as well as consideration of changing work patterns to accommodate travel to and from work at less busy times. You could also consider putting staff into team ‘bubbles’ to limit the impact of how many members of staff might need to isolate if a member of that team becomes infected. The more you can do to minimise the risk of infection spreading within your organisation, the less likely you are to have several people self-isolating at once.

Your risk assessment will need to be a living document, rather than a tick box exercise, and will need to be regularly reviewed as government guidance changes.

Plan for how you will pay staff who are self-isolating

If your employee is self-isolating for 14 days, but does not have symptoms and can work from home, then they can carry on working and need to be paid as normal.

If the isolating employee can’t work from home, then they will usually be entitled to SSP. Many smaller employers should be able to reclaim this too.

SSP will in most cases be less than they would otherwise earn, so you can also suggest instead that the employee considers taking some annual leave to cover this time. This will be even more relevant if the same person is asked to self-isolate on more than one occasion.

It will be important to assess each case separately and not to adopt a one size fits all approach.

Review and update your employment policies and practices

You will need to think how staff self-isolating will be treated whilst they are away from work, and your Sickness Absence Policy or your Remote Working Policy may well need reviewing and amending to deal with these new challenges.

If you have staff that are particularly vulnerable, perhaps because they are pregnant, this will also need to be included in your risk assessment and your review of policies, to see if there are additional steps you should take to protect them against risk because of their condition.

You will also need to be very careful how you treat the information you receive from staff who are ill or self-isolating and keep it as confidential as possible. Health data is classified as Special Category Data under GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018, and so it is even more important that you keep it secure and prevent any unnecessary access to it.

We can help

Our team of HR consultants, supported by our in house employment lawyers, can advise you on tricky employment issues associated with Covid 19. They can help you update your policies in line with the latest government guidance, to ensure you are always on the right side of employment law and we have new software features to help you too.

Why not give our friendly team a call today on 0333 444 0165 or email help@citrushr.com to discuss all the ways we can help you tackle the Coronavirus crisis head-on.

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