The Government is keen to see as many people as possible return to work, but it has to be in a safe way that protects the NHS. The NHS test and trace service, part of the Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy, will play a vital role in providing an early warning should virus activity be on the increase locally, regionally or nationally.
The Government has issued guidance on how employers and businesses in England can play their own important role in slowing the spread of the virus by taking part in the test and trace programme. For your benefit we have set out some of the key elements of the guidance here, although we do recommend reading the full guide, as well as the latest information for employers on returning to work.
What is the NHS test and trace service?
The test and trace service provides testing for anyone who has experienced coronavirus symptoms. It then contacts anyone who has returned a positive test result, helping them share information about any recent close contacts they’ve had. Those contacts are then alerted where required and advised to self-isolate with the goal of helping to stem the spread of the virus.
The self-isolation will help protect the friends, family, colleagues and anyone else the contacts may usually be in contact with from contracting the virus.
How will the test and trace service support businesses and promote economic recovery?
The NHS test and trace service will support businesses and promote economic recovery by making testing accessible to anyone who presents coronavirus symptoms, and by helping halt the onward spread of the virus within the workplace and wider environment. It has the ultimate aim of reducing the number of people who are infected and have to self-isolate.
The programme will also allow the Government to take steps to further ease lockdown measures as it sees fit, with a view to getting the UK back to normal as fast as possible.
How should employers use the test and trace service?
Employers will play a crucial role in ensuring their workplaces are as safe as possible, in encouraging staff to take notice of any advice to self-isolate, and in supporting them as they isolate.
It is important to bear in mind that whilst this may be disruptive from a business point of view, it could potentially be more disruptive should there be a COVID-19 outbreak in the workplace, or a local lockdown.
To assist employers, guidance has been created on the 5 steps for working safely, together with sector-specific guidance. It is vital that employers follow this guidance to help reduce the risk of infection in the workplace.
The NHS test and trace service does not alter in any way the existing guidance about working from home wherever possible.
As we outlined in our previous guide to returning to work, a COVID-19 risk assessment is a must. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published guidance to help you conduct a risk assessment. Employers must consult their workers, and unions where relevant, as part of their risk assessment. The risk assessment should be shared with workers, perhaps by publishing it on their website or company intranet.
The NHS test and trace service is designed to support employers’ risk mitigation measures rather than replace them.
What happens in the event of a workplace coronavirus outbreak?
If there is more than a single case of COVID-19 related to a particular workplace, the employer should contact the local health protection team to report the suspected outbreak. Here’s how to locate your local health protection team.
The health protection team will carry out a risk assessment; issue public health advice and, where required, establish a multi-agency incident management team which will be responsible for managing the outbreak.
How to support self-isolating staff?
It is important for employers to support staff who need to self-isolate. They should not be expected to attend the workplace.
Staff who have coronavirus symptoms and are waiting for a test result should be self-isolating, as should those who have tested positive for the virus; those who share a household with someone with symptoms or who has tested positive, and anyone who has been in recent close contact with someone who has tested positive and has received a notification to self-isolate from the NHS test and trace service.
Be sure to carry on communicating and support any of your workers who are self-isolating. If they can work from home and it will not affect their health, try to make this possible. If they cannot work from home then you must make sure they are receiving the relevant Statutory Sick Pay, and also provide the option to make use of any paid leave days should that be their preference, which is their right.
The NHS test and trace service will provide a notification that can be used as evidence that someone has been told to self-isolate.
How does contact tracing work for co-workers?
The NHS test and trace service will follow up with anyone who needs to self-isolate because they have had recent close contact with a co-worker who has tested positive for the virus. Contact tracing staff, local public health experts, online services and, when ready, the NHS COVID-19 app, will all play a part in the follow-up system.
When someone first displays symptoms and orders a test, they will be urged to notify the people with whom they’ve had close contact with in the 48 hours before the symptoms started.
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 let those co-workers know. At this point, those close contacts need not self-isolate They must however avoid individuals who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19, perhaps because they have pre-existing medical conditions, such as respiratory problems. They must also take extra care with social distancing and hygiene, and be on their guard as to the onset of symptoms. Only if the person with symptoms tests positive will the co-workers need to self-isolate.
If the person presenting symptoms tests positive for COVID-19, the NHS test and trace service will request that they share information about their close recent contacts. In addition, if they work within, or have recently attended any of the following environments, then the contact tracing process will be escalated to local public health experts who will liaise with the relevant manager:
- A health or care setting, e.g. 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
Outside of such cases, any non-household contacts who are required to self-isolate will be contacted by the NHS test and trace service. This will be via a formal notification (a phone call, letter, email or text message) which will advise the length of time they need to self-isolate for.
Staff can use this notification to let their employer know that they have been advised to self-isolate. Employers will require this evidence if they are going to claim a Statutory Sick Pay rebate.
The period of self-isolation is 14 days from the point of most recent contact with the person who has tested positive for coronavirus.
Track and trace guidance for employees
Staff who are self-isolating because they have symptoms of coronavirus, or because they live with someone who has symptoms, can request an isolation note through NHS111 online.
Workers who are advised to self-isolate should share the evidence provided by NHS test and trace to show that they have been told to self-isolate and let their employer know this means they can’t attend the workplace.
Any workers who are already unable to work and have a ‘fit note’ stating they are not fit for work which covers the period for which they have been told to self-isolate, must follow the public health advice they have been given.
Employees must self-isolate whenever they receive a notification from the NHS test and trace service asking them to do so. If this happens more than once, a review of social distancing measures will become necessary.
Anyone who believes the contacts that have triggered these notifications are workplace contacts should ask their employer to consider what further measures could be put in place to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, such as the use of screens to separate people. Further suggestions can be found here in the safer workplaces guidance.
An employee who is self-isolating who can work from home is required to do so, by agreement with their employer. If it is not possible for them to work, employees will usually be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay. When this entitlement ends, depending on individual circumstances, Universal Credit and/or Employment and Support Allowance may be an option.
Agency workers, or workers on zero hours contracts who have been told to self-isolate, must work from home wherever possible. If they cannot, they may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay or Universal Credit whilst self-isolating in line with government guidance.
Further information can be found within this guidance and support for employees during coronavirus.
What if I’m self-employed?
If you are self-employed, you should carry on working from home if possible. If it isn’t possible then you must implement the guidance on the 5 steps for working safely and sector-specific advice for your specific work environment.
To help stem the spread of COVID-19, you will be advised to self-isolate should you or another household member develop symptoms or test positive for coronavirus, or if the NHS test and trace service advises you to do so because you have had recent close contact with someone who is infected. If you can alter your working practices and work from home, you must do so.
If your business has been negatively affected by the pandemic, you may be entitled to a grant through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).
An update on the NHS COVID-19 app
Following testing, the government has recently announced the next phase of development in building an app that supports the end-to-end NHS test and trace service.
The NHS COVID-19 app will form one element of the NHS test and trace service. It will work alongside other methods of contact tracing, helping to accelerate the system and contact people who cannot be reached through traditional forms of contact tracing, such as someone you do not know but you have sat next to on public transport, or were in a bar with at the same time.
Here to help
Always remember that team RG is here to support you through the coronavirus situation. Should you have any questions relating to insurance, you are welcome to get in touch with your usual contact. We are running a fully uninterrupted service to ensure you have access to all the guidance you need at this time.