What does test and trace mean for employers?
With coronavirus test and trace systems now up and running across the UK, your attempts to bring employees back to work could be disrupted by unplanned absences. Here’s what this means for you – and how to cope.
How does test and trace work?
The new test and trace system provides testing for anyone with COVID symptoms, and if they test positive, it contacts anyone who’s been in close contact with them and advises them to self-isolate for 14 days. While this isn’t mandatory yet, if too many people refuse to comply the Government could start enforcing it with fines.
What this means for employers is more people self-isolating and more absences while you’re trying to get your business back up and running. While some people will be able to work from home, if someone who’s been in the workplace tests positive their whole team could be told to self-isolate.
People who do self-isolate following the advice of the service will be entitled to statutory sick pay, which could leave you out of pocket, because it’s only recoverable if you have fewer than 250 PAYE employees (on or before 28 February 2020) and your employee is unable to work because of coronavirus (the notification from the service is all the evidence they need.) And even then, you can only recover two weeks’ worth of sick pay.
What’s more, because statutory sick pay is quite low, some employees who receive a notification may be tempted to keep quiet and keep working. This means that at your discretion, you might prefer to offer full contractual sick pay, to encourage people to stay home and not risk infecting others.
What should employers be doing?
Most importantly: discourage presenteeism. Encourage workers to listen to notifications to self-isolate, and support them when they do.
- Communicate clearly what’s expected of them if they’re contacted by the service.
- Update policies so staff are required to tell their manager if they get a notification.
- Decide what level of sick pay you’ll offer them (statutory, contractual, or full pay.)
- Encourage working from home where possible.
- Offer the option of taking holiday rather than sick leave if this puts them in a better financial position.
Other points to remember
- The government still advises employees to work from home where possible.
- Employees who develop symptoms can (but don’t have to) ask you to inform their colleagues, who won’t be required to self-isolate but should avoid contact with anyone at high risk and practise social distancing scrupulously. However, make sure you don’t disclose any personal data in breach of the GDPR.
- Amend your COVID-19 risk assessments to allow for the possibility of someone getting a notification from the service.
- Look to your local authority and/or Public Health England for support if you suffer a workplace outbreak.
- Continue to protect non-employees who may be affected, like contractors, agency workers, volunteers, suppliers, customers and other visitors.
- Revisit your business continuity plan and make contingency plans for increased absences or a possible workplace outbreak.