COVID-19: NHS test and trace: workplace guidance published for England

The Department of Health and Social Care has published guidance on the NHS test and trace service which explains how employers and businesses can play their part in the NHS test and trace programme to slow the spread of the virus.

The online guidance explains that the NHS test and trace service will provide testing for anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, get in touch with anyone who tests positive to obtain information about their recent contacts and, where necessary, notify those contacts that they need to self-isolate to stop transmission of the virus. The NHS COVID-19 app, which is currently being trialled in the Isle of Wight, will complement other forms of contact tracing as part of the service.

The guidance recommends that employers maintain communication with staff in self-isolation. Staff who remain well should be enabled to work from home where practicable (which might involve the employer finding alternative work that can be done at home during their isolation period). Self-isolating employees should receive sick pay or be given the opportunity to take paid annual leave. Employees notified to self-isolate under the test and trace service are deemed to be “incapable of work” for statutory sick pay purposes.

The guidance points out that while this may seem disruptive, it is less disruptive than an outbreak of COVID-19 in an employer’s workplace, and much less disruptive than periods in lockdown. Where multiple cases of COVID-19 appear in a workplace, an outbreak control team from either the local authority or Public Health England may be assigned to help the employer manage the outbreak. Employers with concerns should seek advice from their local authority in the first instance.