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 core part of the UK’s toolkit in the fight against COVID-19. As the government’s plan to ease lockdown in England is made clear, they are likely to remain so until – and even after – the majority of the UK population is vaccinated.
This factsheet contains information for employers who might want to provide testing for employees or others on-site (such as suppliers and agency staff), including using the government’s free testing kits. With up to a third of COVID-19 sufferers showing no symptoms, more widespread asymptomatic testing is one tool in response to the pandemic while enabling safe business operations.
Anyone with symptoms should continue to get a PCR test through NHS Test and Trace programme (for England), which will also trace their contacts. The CBI has also created a complementary factsheet on Test and Trace (including links to guidance for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland), and a factsheet on testing to support firms to understand the overall testing landscape – in particular the types of test available.
What’s the latest information and insight?
Tests can identify whether someone currently has or previously had the disease, helping to pinpoint isolated cases and outbreaks – but the testing landscape is fast-moving and complex to navigate. The NHS is the predominant route to access free tests for those with symptoms, using ‘RT-PCR’ technology.
In recent months, developments in testing technology have also created the opportunity to test an increasing number of people without symptoms at a quicker and cheaper rate. These tests are known as lateral flow device antigen (LFD) tests and LAMP tests. These tests are known as lateral flow device antigen (LFD) tests and LAMP tests. Alongside vaccines, this progress has the potential to unlock the wider reopening of the economy in the months ahead, moving away from lockdowns and social restrictions to giving people and businesses the much-needed confidence to resume activities like work and travel. Government is exploring the role testing and vaccine data could play in COVID-status certification, which aims to provide reassurance that an individual is at reduced risk of transmission. Read the CBI’s response to the COVID-Status Certification Review here.
Businesses themselves have an increasing role to play in supporting access to testing, for example by testing their workforce on a regular basis. The government has recognised this, introducing a scheme for firms to order free LFD tests for employees (further information below). It has also published practical guidance for employers who want to offer workplace testing for asymptomatic employees, including advice on the testing process, the collection of results, communicating results to staff, and what an employer can and can’t do with a result.
The CBI is continuing to work with the government to build understanding and support around the processes and practicalities of introducing workplace testing, including liability for employers, how testing will interact with vaccinations, and improving clarity and consistency of policy across the devolved nations.
Government's free testing scheme
For employers: Businesses registered in England of any size can sign up to the government’s asymptomatic testing scheme for employees who cannot work from home. The government will provide free LFD tests to test employees twice a week in the workplace. Businesses with over 10 employees who cannot offer on-site testing can order tests for employees to collect from the workplace and use at home twice a week.
Eligible firms, including those that are yet to open, must register their interest by 12 April to receive home or on-site lateral flow tests for staff in bulk free of charge until 30 June. Companies registered with the FCA rather than Companies House should email DHSC with their name, FCA registration number, industry and email contact.
For individuals: Government has also announced that everyone in England can access free, twice-weekly LFD tests from 9 April. An end date is yet to be announced. Beyond workplace testing, there are a range of routes through which individuals can access tests – such as community testing (offered by all local authorities), getting tests delivered to people’s homes, and collection from a local PCR test site.
Government continues to encourage businesses to offer workplace testing as an important channel for individuals to get tests and to provide reassurance. The CBI is engaging with government to gain further insight on the role of workplace testing within the expanded testing programme.
Workplace testing using a provider
Finding a testing provider
Most businesses will engage with third-party providers rather than building an in-house testing system from scratch. The government expects employers using third-party testing providers to ensure that they meet the legal and regulatory requirements set out in its guidance for employers and third-party healthcare providers. To guide employers in their choices, the government has recently published a list of private testing providers who have declared that they meet the standards for private sector providers of COVID-19 testing – including reporting results to Public Health England (PHE), and having the relevant systems in place to report adverse incidents.
Before engaging in testing, businesses will need to think carefully about their operations and staff, taking learnings from their response to the pandemic to determine what will work best for their organisation. Some questions to consider include:
- What type of workplace settings will testing be most useful for?
- Which test will best suit my organisation’s need?
- What will testing enable my organisation to do?
- What are my legal obligations as an employer?
- What will the health and safety requirements be?
- How can I incentivise my workforce to take up testing?
- What are the logistical and practical requirements around the delivery of workplace testing? i.e., do I require additional trained staff to manage the programme?
- How regularly does testing need to be undertaken? How long should I implement testing for?
To help you navigate these questions, the CBI is working with the government as it develops guidance for businesses across these areas.
Deciding which tests to use
There are a variety of different COVID-19 tests available, with trade-offs between accuracy, pace, cost, and usability – which may impact which scenarios or workplace settings they are most suitable for. The government advises that businesses discuss with their provider what tests are appropriate for their workplace and the accuracy of tests. For more information about the different types of test and the UK’s approvals process, see the CBI’s factsheet on testing for COVID-19.
Employers should note that no test will be completely accurate and that every test gives a result for that point in time. Testing should therefore complement, not replace, other COVID-secure measures introduced by firms to stop the spread of the virus, such as social distancing and the use of face coverings.
Tracing works by identifying a confirmed case and asking the infected individual who they have been in contact with, helping to isolate cases before they become infectious and providing valuable insight into how the infection is being transmitted.
Some firms have also found it useful to set up internal tracing programmes to help monitor and learn from workplace outbreaks or identify possible areas of transmission. Businesses should note that this is not a substitute for NHS Test and Trace, with Test and Trace advice taking precedence over internal advice on isolation.
Financial support, including 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. The government has published guidance on this.
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 ten-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 workers of the level of support that their business can offer to people unable to work because they are sick or asked to isolate.
People 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 cost for firms that offer occupational sick pay could also be much higher. The financial support available from government is continuing to evolve, and the CBI is encouraging government to consider extra support for firms and individuals.
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 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.
Currently, what will testing enable employers to do?
With high infection rates and new strains of the virus, workplace testing can help to protect your staff, helping to give confidence to those who continue to come into work, as well as your business operations.
If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, they must self-isolate for at least ten days. In addition, anyone who has been within two metres of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes will be asked to self-isolate for ten days. They must stay in isolation for the full ten-day duration, even if they test negative in that time. This is due to the nature of the virus resulting in a delayed onset of symptoms and levels of infectiousness.
The government has stressed that social distancing and other safety measures cannot be relaxed too soon. The roadmap sets out that COVID-secure guidelines will remain in force until at least 21 June.
It also recognises that social distancing is difficult and damaging for businesses, therefore it is important to return to as near to normal as quickly as possible. Government is reviewing social distancing (including exploring how and whether it could be reduced using COVID-status certification) and other long-term measures like home working that have been put in place to limit transmission.
The government also continues to pilot a repeat testing approach to enable close contacts of positive tests to be released from isolation if they continued to test negative. Although the emergence of new variants means that this is not yet feasible, the testing programme is being primed to deliver this when possible.
Are there plans to introduce rapid home tests?
Rapid home testing is now available for businesses with more than 10 employees who cannot set up testing on-site.
What type of testing is occurring for travelling to/returning from other countries?
Travel has been severely impacted by the pandemic. The CBI submitted a response to the government’s Global Travel Taskforce, setting out a clear path forward to safely rebuilding demand for international travel over the coming months, including the need for a robust, affordable testing regime for international arrivals that will reduce quarantine times.
Given the global nature of the health crisis, many countries around the world have introduced additional entry requirements including the need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to departure. Read the requirements for different countries. Employers that require staff to travel regularly across UK borders must take reasonable steps to enable their employees to take tests.
Under current rules, people are not permitted to travel unless they have a legally permitted reason to do so. Travel for holidays and other leisure purposes is not allowed. Travellers from England must complete a ‘Declaration to Travel’ document setting out that their trip is permitted under current restrictions. Those who fail to do so could face a £200 penalty. International travel will not be permitted until 17 May, when it could resume under some circumstances under steps three and four of England’s reopening according to the recent roadmap.
Currently all international arrivals to England, including UK nationals, are required to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken up to 72 hours prior to departure, with exemptions for some jobs such as hauliers and specialist technical workers – goods and services. Passengers will be subject to an immediate fine of £500 if they fail to comply with the new regulations on pre-departure testing.
British and Irish nationals and those with UK residency rights who have visited or passed through a country on the ‘red list’ must quarantine for ten days in a managed quarantine hotel, take a test on or before day two of quarantining and again on or after day eight, and follow national lockdown rules. The government has published guidance on quarantine hotels. People who aren’t British or Irish nationals and don’t have UK residency rights cannot enter the UK if they have visited or passed through those countries.
Travel corridors have been suspended – meaning that all arrivals in England from anywhere outside the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man must self-isolate for ten days, taking a COVID-19 test on or before day two of quarantining and on or after day eight. Passengers are also required to fill in a passenger locator form and are subject to national lockdown restrictions.
Testing for the purposes of international travel, either at departure or upon arrival, is not available on the NHS. To help find a provider, the government has composed a list of private test providers who meet the minimum standards for this purpose.
When non-essential travel does return, it will do so under a risk-based ‘traffic light’ system, where those travelling from a green list country wouldn’t be required to self-isolate (although pre-departure and post-arrival tests would still be needed). Government’s current intention is that an NHS COVID-status certificate solution will facilitate international travel where certification is required. Government will look to establish arrangements with other countries and international organisations to establish mutual recognition of certificates.
Will testing continue to be prioritised as a vaccine is rolled out?
While promising news around COVID-19 vaccines offers a significant confidence boost to the economy, testing and tracing will continue to play a vital part. Currently, three vaccines have been approved for use in the UK: the BioNTech/Pfizer, Oxford/AstraZeneca, and Moderna vaccines – with several more due to be approved in the coming months. Some estimates predict that 80-90% of the population must be vaccinated to stop the virus spreading easily, and there remains some uncertainty around whether vaccines stop people being carriers (although initial research suggests that it may reduce transmission by up to 67%) and the efficacy of vaccines against new strains of COVID-19. Given the pace of immunisation, an effective mass testing programme remains imperative for workplaces as an enabler for reopening the economy safely.
What support and guidance is available for companies in the devolved nations?
Devolved administrations receive an allocation of testing capacity based on population share and make their own policy decisions about how to use this capacity. The CBI is engaging closely with devolved administrations and will continue to update this page.
- Wales: The Welsh government provides support for regular asymptomatic testing, focusing on workplaces with more than 50 employees who can’t work from home, work in close proximity to other and with higher exposure to risk, and that deliver and maintain key services for the public. The Welsh government provides further detail on the COVID-19 workplace testing framework. Businesses can get in contact if they wish to discuss the scheme further
- Scotland: Free LFD tests are available for food production and processing businesses with over 25 employees and some food processing firms. Read further information including how to register interest. The Scottish government has also released guidance for employers on employee testing programmes. It will also introduce free twice-weekly asymptomatic LFD testing for individuals, with further details to follow.
- Northern Ireland: Employers from key sectors within Northern Ireland can now access the national testing programme as part of a targeted expansion of asymptomatic testing. For further information and to register interest, businesses can visit the Health Department’s website. The Public Health Agency provides guidance on testing in Northern Ireland. It advises caution about obtaining testing from non-governmental sources.
- Watch the CBI’s webinar with Ben Stimson, Chief Customer Officer at NHS Test and Trace, and Lisa Curlett-Harrison, Security Partner at RWE, with insight into support available to firms for workplace testing and how RWE navigated the process
- Watch the CBI’s webinar analysing the recovery roadmap, including updates and insight on workplace testing
- Watch the CBI’s webinar with Ben Osborn, MD and UK Country Manager of Pfizer, and Professor Devi Sridhar, Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, which provides insight into COVID-19 vaccination and the continued importance and potential of mass testing
- Watch the CBI’s webinar with Baroness Dido Harding, Executive Chair of NHS Test and Trace, and Eddie Fellowes, CEO of Smurfit Kappa, a manufacturer undertaking workplace testing
- Watch the CBI’s webinar with Baroness Harding and Rebecca Weston, COO of Sellafield, to gain insight into how one firm is approaching workplace testing