CBI content does not constitute legal or financial advice. This factsheet is not intended to make a judgement about which testing options are best or the specific activities you should undertake. Scientific understanding and data in this field is changing and being updated on a regular basis. Each business needs a plan unique to their own requirements. Decisions about actions to take will be different for every company and are therefore a matter for each individual business.
Testing, tracing, and isolating are a central part of the UK’s toolkit in the fight against COVID-19, and are likely to remain so until - and even after - the majority of the UK population is vaccinated. This factsheet contains information for employers on the NHS Test and Trace programme. The CBI has also created a factsheet on workplace testing.
NHS Test and Trace remains the route through which symptomatic individuals should access tests and their contacts can be traced, including through an App based software downloaded onto mobile devices. Meanwhile if there have been multiple cases in a workplace, employers are required to contact their local health protection team to understand the potential source of any outbreak.
Testing has been used during the pandemic to identify whether those that display symptoms are infected with coronavirus or not. This has helped to pinpoint isolated cases and outbreaks throughout the community and in workplace settings. With the improvements in testing capabilities, tests are also now being used to identify those that have coronavirus but do not display symptoms. This is known as asymptomatic testing and helps to identify individuals that could unknowingly spread the virus.
Tracing works by identifying a confirmed case and asking the infected individual who they have been in contact with. Depending on the level of interaction, the contacts of the infected individual may be asked to self-isolate for 10 days in the event they too show symptoms. The purpose of this is to help isolate cases before they become infectious, break chains of transmission from occurring and thereby provide valuable insight into how the infection may be transmitted.
Prior to the January 2021 lockdown, hospitality venues were required to collect any visitors contact details for the purposes of contact tracing before being allowed entry, with a requirement to make these available when requested by NHS Test and Trace or local public health officials to help contain clusters or outbreak.
Please note – this factsheet focuses on England only, with links to guidance from Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales below. All four administrations are working together to seek to achieve a consistent and joined-up approach to testing and tracing.
The Test and Trace workplace guidance for employers, businesses and workers is found here. Test and Trace guidance links through to the broader employer guidance from BEIS, 5 steps for working safely and sector-specific guidance. The government has reinforced the importance of existing COVID Secure guidance to help reduce the risk of infection in the workplace, and said it will commit to updated guidance providing further advice for firms.
Information about getting a test if you have symptoms through NHS Test and Trace can be found here.
NHS COVID-19 app
The COVID-19 app enhances the contact tracing process, by alerting users if they have been near other users who have tested positive for the virus. The app has been downloaded over 21 million times across England and Wales, and is estimated to have prevented approximately 600,000 cases of COVID-19 since it was launched. Designated venues must display an NHS QR poster for app users to scan – more information can be found here. Guidance for workers can be found here.
Statutory sick pay
Workers will be less likely to follow public health guidance to self-isolate if they have financial or job security concerns. Employees in self-isolation are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for every day they are in isolation, provided they meet the eligibility conditions. You can read the guidance on this here.
Some employees may also be eligible for a one-off payment of £500 under the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme, which will continue into the summer, and will be expanded to cover parents who are unable to work because they are caring for a child.
SMEs can claim a rebate for SSP for one 10-day isolation per employee. They will need a Coronavirus isolation note from their employee to make the claim.
Employers should be explicit in their communication with staff of the level of support that their business can offer to people unable to work because they are sick or asked to isolate.
Individuals are not eligible for SSP if they are ‘workers’, self-employed, or earn below £120 a week. SSP is paid at just under £96 per week. SSP rates could simultaneously be a financial penalty for employees who cannot work because of isolation, and an unsustainable cost burden for employers, particularly if employees are told to isolate for multiple periods. The impact on both individuals and employers will also differ if occupational sick pay is offered.
Impact on workers
Self-isolation for 10 days in accordance with the NHS guidelines will be especially difficult for some employees and may affect their mental health. Employers should continue to communicate with staff during this period. The CBI has created a factsheet on mental health and wellbeing in a crisis.
Employees could be requested to self-isolate more than once, for instance they may live with multiple individuals who at some point in time maybe be asked on separate occasions to self-isolate.
Reopening risk assessment plan
Firms should prioritise sharing information about testing and tracing with their workers, including clearly communicating the steps that workers need to take if they are contacted. This will become increasingly important as lockdown restrictions are eased following the government’s roadmap, with instances of contact tracing likely to increase, in particular as a result of the new highly transmissible variants.
It is also important that employees understand the health and safety measures that firms have introduced to the workplace and can communicate them. This could help to avoid unnecessary isolations as they are able to inform test and trace agents about relevant measures in place to reduce risk of transmission (such as Perspex screens).
Employers should ensure they are fulfilling their duty of care to their whole workforce, this includes agency workers, contractors, volunteers, customers, suppliers and other visitors. The CBI’s factsheet on returning to work safely includes information on how businesses can plan a safe restart. Government guidance on working safely can be found here, with the government committing to updated guidance for firms.
Firms recognise the vital importance of protecting the sensitive data involved in test and trace, in order to maintain employee and customer trust in the use of their personal data while reducing the spread of infection. Health data is special category data under the GDPR, so you need a legal reason (‘lawful basis’) to process it.
Businesses should refer to guidance from the UK data protection regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office, which has produced workplace testing advice for organisations as well as general guidance on broader data protection issues related to the pandemic.
For the purposes of contact tracing, businesses operating in the hospitality, tourism and leisure sectors and close contact services (like hairdressers) are being asked by the government to collect and retain certain staff, customer, and visitor information for a limited period of time, 21 days. There are a number of third parties who provide software to automate the process.
You must ensure that you collect and store this data in line with data protection law. This includes ensuring that the data you collect is secure, and that you are proportionate in what you collect. You will also need to identify a legal reason (‘lawful basis’) to collect the data. The lawful basis is likely to be legitimate interests – i.e. it’s in the interests of the individual, the organisation, and the public health effort.
Guidance differs for firms in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Businesses in the affected sectors should also ensure that they are familiar with ICO guidance on collecting customer and visitor details for contact tracing.
During the current national lockdown, a range of businesses are required to close, including non-essential retail, hospitality venues, entertainment venues, and personal care facilities.
The government’s roadmap sets out key points for easing restrictions in England.
Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland
The government has announced a scheme for workplaces in England to access free asymptomatic testing for those staff unable to work from home. As part of this scheme testing results are also confidentially shared with NHS Test and Trace to feed into wider contact tracing. To understand more take a read of the CBI’s factsheets on workplace testing and COVID-19 testing more broadly
NHS Test and Trace has published ‘Frequently asked questions for workplaces’. Examples include:
- Can employers be involved with their employees on contact tracing calls (particularly about those living on site/ English isn’t their first language)?
- What if an employee tests positive for coronavirus and self-isolates but asks their employer not to share their medical information? Does data confidentiality mean that the employer can’t alert other employees that this person has been in contact with so they can self-isolate?
- Can I request information to see who has potentially infected my employees - e.g. other employees/ customers?
- If there is an outbreak what should I do?