COVID-19 Update: NHS Test & Trace

Employer Considerations

On the 27th May 2020, the Government announced the NHS test and trace service which:

● provides testing for anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus to find out if they have the virus;
● gets in touch with anyone who has had a positive test result to help them share information about any close recent contacts they have had; and
● alerts those contacts, where necessary, and notifies them they need to self-isolate for fourteen days to help stop the spread of the virus.

Workers may be told to isolate because they:
● have coronavirus symptoms and are awaiting a test result;
● have tested positive for coronavirus;
● are a member of the same household as someone who has symptoms or has tested positive for coronavirus; or
● have been in close recent contact with someone who has tested positive and received a notification to self-isolate from NHS test and trace.

What do we need to do if an employee is notified that they have to self-isolate under the test and trace system because they have had close recent contact to someone who has tested positive?
Government guidance requires employers to encourage workers to heed any notifications to self-isolate and provide support to these individuals when in isolation. If they are currently working in the work place, then employers should consider whether there are any duties they can continue with from home.

What pay do they receive?
If the employee is currently working and cannot work from home, SSP is payable (from day one of self-isolation). If you have less than 250 employees, this can be claimed back through HMRC’s SSP rebate scheme. If you usually enhance SSP, now may be a prudent time to consider varying your sick pay entitlement where absence is COVID-19-related. We can assist with this.

If the employee was working before being notified, they are not eligible to be furloughed for the self-isolation period. If they were already furloughed and tell you they have received a notification to self-isolate we believe that they can remain furloughed.

Do all other workers they have been in contact with need to self-isolate?
No. The government system does not go that far. Only if any other workers are showing symptoms would they need to self-isolate and register with the test and trace system.

Can we request evidence that the employee has been contacted under the system?
Yes. The NHS test and trace service will provide a notification that can be used as evidence that someone has been told to self-isolate. This notification should be provided by the worker to their employer. It would be useful to communicate this requirement to your workforce now.

What support should we provide to an employee that needs to self-isolate?
● Continue communication lines.
● Allow to work from home if they are able to.
● Consider any alternative work that could be completed during the self-isolation period to allow home working.
● If they cannot work from home, sick pay should be paid.
● Give the employee the option to use their paid annual leave during self-isolation if they prefer.

What is the position if an employee now develops symptoms?
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; and
● will be better prepared if the person who has symptoms has a positive test result and if they (the contact) receive a notification from the NHS test and trace service explaining they need to self-isolate.

What should we do if an employee tests positive?
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 (eg co-workers) who need to self-isolate will be contacted by the NHS test and trace service. They will receive a formal notification (either a phone call, letter, email or text message) setting out how long they need to self-isolate for. This evidence can then be provided to the employer (as above).

What shall we do if there is an outbreak in the workplace?
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.

How does the test and trace system impact on the employer’s health and safety requirements?
All previous COVID-Secure guidance on health and safety still applies and the test and trace system does not change the existing guidance about working from home wherever possible.

As part of the COVID-Secure guidelines, employers are required to undertake a risk assessment. The test and trace system can be referenced as a risk mitigation measure within that.

If you need assistance with any communications to employees about the test and trace system or have any further queries, please contact the CG Team.