Test and Trace is the NHS scheme that has being introduced to try to control the future spread of Coronavirus. The idea behind the scheme is that if people who have been in contact with Coronavirus can be quickly found and isolated, the spread into the wider community can be controlled.
This is clearly a good idea. The quicker you can isolate people who have Coronavirus; the fewer people they will come into contact with, the fewer people risk being infected. However, it presents some quite significant employment challenges.
The questions answered in this post are:
As with all of the guidance with Coronavirus, we need to remind you that these are unprecedented times and it is unclear as to how employment law will be applied in these exceptional circumstances.
The information that follows has been compiled with input from government websites, Acas and HMRC (the only official resources that we’re happy to use as these are the institutions who will be responsible for enforcing the rules as we move forward), but the reality is no-one really knows for certain how actions that businesses need to take now will be interpreted later.
We strongly advise you get in-touch with us on 0203 319 1649 to get expert, tailored guidance before you take any actions.
1. How could the Test and Trace scheme impact my business?
Under the Test and Trace scheme, anyone who tests positive for Coronavirus is contacted by the Test and Trace team and asked to provide details of all of the individuals with whom they have been in close contact. The Test and Trace team then contact these individuals and advise them to self-isolate for 14 days and to get tested if they develop symptoms.
It’s going to be quite tricky to manage as an employer. Here’s just a couple of scenarios that you may need to manage:
- A member of your team comes to work and then the next day tests positive for Coronavirus. They give the Test and Trace team details of all of your employees and now your entire team has to self-isolate. How do you manage that?
- You get a call from an employee who has been contacted by the Test and Trace team and advised that they have been in close contact with someone outside of work who has now tested positive for Coronavirus. The employee now needs to self-isolate for 14 days and wants to know how much pay they will receive.
There are going to be many more variations of these scenarios, so what can and should you be doing?
2. What are the key messages to employees for Test and Trace?
The first thing to do is to make sure that your employees and managers fully understand which contacts they need to declare to the Test and Trace team if they are contacted.
Your employee may get a little carried away and feel it is their duty to declare everyone they’ve been in contact with at work, but this is not required and is what could cause the problems.
Make sure that your employees know that the Test and Trace service will be looking for information regarding people with whom they have had “close contact” in the 2 days before their symptoms started.
Close contact means:
- Being less than 1 metre away from an individual for any amount of time
- Spending more than 15 minutes within 2 metres of someone
- Travelling in a car or other small vehicle with someone (even if it’s just a short journey) or close to them on a plane.
With this definition, if you are operating social distancing in the workplace, it should not be necessary for employees to give contact details for the rest of your employees.
(This is another reason to ensure that your employees do adhere to all social distancing rules in the workplace).
3. What do I pay employees who have to self-isolate (due to Test and Trace)?
If employees are required to self-isolate due to Test and Trace and are unable to work from home, then they need to be paid in line with your normal absence policy.
- If you offer enhanced sick pay, then you need to pay this;
- if you just offer statutory sick pay, then you just pay that.
4. What can I do to minimise the impact of Test and Trace on my business?
There are two main options for employers to continue to manage the spread of COVID-19 and minimise the impact of any Test and Trace situations:
- Ensure the workplace is “COVID secure”
- Ensure working from home is a practical option
At the moment, there are still lots of people who are working from home so a self-isolation order shouldn’t be too inconvenient to manage. As people return to work, however, it will become more challenging.
If you do have people back at work who can also work from home, make sure that you remind them to take equipment home each day (where it’s practical to do so) that would allow them to work from home the next day if they do receive contact from the Test and Trace team.
Do all that you can to make sure that your workplace is COVID secure:
- There are guidelines on the government website now to cover what COVID secure means in a range of settings (maybe start here: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus-business-reopening).
- There’s also a lot of useful information on the Health and Safety Executive website (https://www.hse.gov.uk/).
If your workplace is COVID secure then it is unlikely that any employee will come into close contact with another employee, and this minimises the risk of you needing to send the entire company/department home.
We’ll be sending out a more detailed post of the Health & Safety considerations for returning to work in the coming days.
These continue to be very challenging times and we can’t stress enough the importance of open and honest communication with your employees and getting tailored professional guidance (preferably from us!) before you take any action.