Should you sign up for the COVID-19 National Workplace Testing programme?
The government’s COVID-19 National Workplace Testing programme has been expanded to cover more businesses, having previously been restricted to schools and businesses who have more than 250 employees.
From this week, the number of employees needed to qualify for free test kits has been dropped to 50.
Employers interested in the scheme can sign up for it online at https://www.gov.uk/get-workplace-coronavirus-tests
The benefits of the scheme
One of the main reasons for signing up to the programme is that the testing will identify asymptomatic employees (currently believed to make up 1 in 3 of all people who have contracted COVID) and this will enable employers to ask them to self-isolate rather than bring the virus to work with them and end up infecting their colleagues.
As only those who test negative for COVID will then be left in the workplace, this will mean the likelihood of transmission between employees will be significantly reduced, helping to protect the business as a whole.
Taking this step will also enable a business to inform its customers of what it is doing, thereby reassuring them that they are very unlikely to contract the virus from an employee who is still working. Companies who visit many customers on a face-to-face basis will find this important when it comes to maintaining customer use of their services.
Other things to think about
Businesses should not rush into a programme of testing without having considered what it might mean for them and whether they have the means to administer it.
It is very inadvisable to announce that it will now be mandatory to get tested for COVID. A business that wants to introduce testing of its workforce should proceed in the same way as if they were changing any other policy or procedure. The workforce should be included in consultations, with the reasons for the change explained clearly, the benefits outlined and any concerns and viewpoints listened to and taken on board.
Employers should first introduce the scheme as a voluntary one where the employees who are happy to participate can give their free consent to being tested. Those who do not want to participate in the scheme should continue to observe all other measures that have been put in place to increase the safety of the workplace.
Employers will also need to attend to the administration associated with the testing; which kits have gone to which employees and how many have been returned, for example. It will also be necessary to find somewhere secure to store the test kits until they are distributed, and that storage space must be able to protect the kits from low or high temperatures.
Fewer than 50 staff?
If an organisation with fewer than 50 staff – or a sole trader, or the self-employed – wants to get their staff or themselves tested, they should contact their local authority via their website to ask about arranging this.
Jane Lowe, HR Advisor at rradar