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What to do in the event an employee tests positive for COVID-19

Updated: Feb 16

If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, the employer and the employee should immediately follow the government guidelines issued for their geographical area. These may vary by region and may also be updated or amended. Employers should always follow the advice from their government website as a primary information source.

Legal requirements for self-isolation

  • Any person who qualifies for self-isolation (receiving a positive COVID-19 test result or an instruction by NHS Test and Trace to self-isolate) may risk fines of up to £10,000 if they do not stay at home and self-isolate.

  • It is now an offence for a person who tests positive to knowingly provide false information about their close contacts to NHS Test and Trace. This may result in a fine of up to £10,000.

  • It is now an offence for employers in England to knowingly allow or force staff to come to work when they should be self-isolating. Employers who do so can be fined up to £10,000.

At present, these regulations will only apply in England. This may change in the coming weeks.

Test and Trace Support Payment scheme

Those required to self-isolate may be entitled to a one-off payment of £500 through the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme.

Local authorities will be implementing arrangements to make these payments to those eligible under the scheme. Further details will be made available.

The Test and Trace support payment will be paid to the employee on top of any Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) payments or other benefits they receive.

Those eligible for the scheme must live in England and meet all the following criteria:

  • asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace;

  • employed or self-employed;

  • cannot work from home and will lose income as a result;

  • are claiming at least one of the following benefits: Universal Credit, Working Tax Credits, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Pension Credit or Housing Benefit.

Local authorities will also have discretion to make payments to those who don’t receive qualifying benefits but are on low income and could suffer financial hardship as a result.

What if a person in the workplace develops COVID-19 symptoms?

By law, employees must tell their employer if they’ve tested positive or been asked to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace service.

Once an employer has been informed that an employee, worker or agency worker is required to self-isolate, they must not let that individual go anywhere other than their designated self-isolation space.

If a person develops symptoms of coronavirus at work, the employee should:

  • tell their employer immediately, and go home;

  • avoid touching anything, and wash their hands regularly;

  • cough or sneeze into a tissue and put it in a bin, or if they do not have tissues, cough/sneeze into the crook of their elbow;

  • use a separate bathroom from others, if possible;

  • avoid using public transport to travel home, if possible.

The employee should remain at home in self-isolation and request a free COVID-19 test as soon as possible. They will then be asked by the NHS Test and Trace service to provide details of anyone with whom they have been in close recent contact.

This will not automatically be all their colleagues but will include anyone who meets the definition of being a close contact.

This is a person who has been close to someone who has tested positive for coronavirus anytime from 2 days before the person began showing symptoms, up to 10 days from the onset of symptoms (this is when they are infectious to others).

This could be a person who:

  • spends significant time in the same household as the person who tested positive.

  • is a sexual partner of the person who tested positive.

  • has had face-to-face contact within one metre, including being coughed on, having skin-to-skin physical contact or contact within one metre for one minute or longer.

  • has been within 2 metres of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus for more than 15 minutes

  • has travelled in a small vehicle, in a large vehicle or on a plane with someone who has tested positive.

Even if they were wearing PPE or face coverings at the time of the contact, this would not make them exempt from being defined as having close contact.

Where an interaction between 2 people has taken place through a perspex (or equivalent) screen, this would not be considered as close contact, providing that there has been no other form of contact of the kind listed above.

What to tell other employees?

When NHS Test and Trace advises contacts to self-isolate, the service does not tell them the identity of the person who has tested positive.

Employers may need to keep staff informed about COVID-19 cases among their colleagues, but employers should not name the individual.

If an employee is at risk because of close contact with a positive tested person, then the employee will be told to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace service.

Self-isolation by choice

An employee, close contact person or anyone living in the same household should only be required to self-isolate if they have been contacted by NHS Test and Trace and told to self-isolate, if they test positive for COVID-19 or begin to show symptoms, or if they live with someone who begins to show any symptoms of COVID-19 or tests positive.

Providing they meet one or more of these criteria, they must self-isolate and request an Isolation Note from NHS 111 which will entitle them to receive SSP from day 1 of absence, unless the company pays enhanced company sick pay in which case that will apply as normal.

If an employee who is not required to self-isolate still chooses to do so, they may be exercising their right not to attend work on the grounds of health and safety under Sections 44 & 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. In this instance, an employee cannot be disciplined or dismissed for this absence, as they are asserting a statutory right.

If an employee chooses to self-isolate where they are not required to, should they receive sick pay?

SSP from day 1 of a period of self-isolation only applies to those eligible for payment and required to self-isolate in accordance with government guidelines. The NHS 111 service will not issue an isolation note to anyone who does not meet these criteria.

Instead, employees in this situation may opt to self-certify for 1 week, after which a GP fit note will need to be given to their employer for any subsequent weeks. The employee may be entitled to SSP under the normal rules if they are eligible, which include the first 3 days of their absence as waiting days of unpaid leave, to be eligible for SSP from day 4 of their absence.

If, however, during this period of absence, any of the following occur:

  • the employee develops symptoms of COVID-19;

  • someone they live with develops symptoms of COVID-19;

  • they are contacted by NHS Test and Trace to notify them they are a close contact person;

The employee will have to begin an immediate period of recognised self-isolation. They will then become entitled to SSP from day 1 of that period under the Statutory Sick Pay (General) (Coronavirus Amendment) Regulations 2020.

The employee may also be eligible for a £500 one-off payment under the Test and Trace Support Scheme on top of their SSP payments, as mentioned above.

Multiple cases in one workplace

If there is more than one confirmed case of coronavirus in a workplace, employers should contact their local health protection team to report the suspected outbreak.

The heath protection team will:

  • undertake a risk assessment,

  • provide public health advice, and where necessary,

  • establish a multi-agency incident management team to manage the outbreak.

Written by

Kiri Thompson, HR Advisor at rradar

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