Protect Your Employees: What Is Test and Trace?

People who’ve been in close contact with someone found to have COVID-19 in England, Scotland, and Wales are now being traced. The NHS contact tracers will ask people they get in touch with to self-isolate for a fortnight.

The NHS test and trace service ensures that anyone who develops symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) can quickly be tested to find out if they have the virus, and also includes targeted asymptomatic testing of NHS and social care staff and care home residents.

The service is intended to help control the rate of reproduction of COVID-19 called the “R” rate. It is a way for those who test positive for the virus to share with the NHS who they have recently had contact with, so that those people can be alerted and self-isolate. The hope is that contact tracing will avoid the need for national lockdowns, with more local restrictions used instead.

The following personal information will be requested if tested:

  • Name, date of birth, and postcode
  • Names of people in household
  • Details of recently visited places
  • Names and contact details of people they have been in close contact with in the 48 hours before symptoms started

The definition of close contacts is:

  • people they have spent 15 minutes or more with at a distance of less than 2m
  • people they have had direct contact with – such as sexual partners, household members or people with whom they have had face-to-face conversations at a distance of less than 1m

The contact must have taken place between two days before and up to seven days after symptoms appeared.

If someone is informed by the NHS test and trace service that they have been in close recent contact with someone who has coronavirus, they are obligated to self-isolate under strict lockdown rules. Members of their household will not have to isolate if the tested/traced person does not have symptoms, but they must take extra care to follow the guidance on social distancing and handwashing and avoid contact with them at home.

What effect will this have on employers?

This will, therefore, have implications for employers and staff if employees are told by NHS test & trace to self-isolate.

In respect of what an employee should be paid, it will depend on the wording of contractual sick pay policies. In May 2020, the Government extended statutory sick pay (SSP) to allow those who are self-isolating as a result of test and trace to claim SSP if they have been notified that they must do so. The employer can only claim back 14 days in total. If the employee is then off for a further period of isolation, they will still be entitled to SSP but the employer will not be entitled to reimbursement.

However, if they can work from home then they would not necessarily need to be absent due to ill health, and may be able to continue working depending on their symptoms, unless they become unwell and unable to work.

If the employee is furloughed then pay will need to be carefully considered depending on how the employee’s work is affected at the time, as well as a number of other factors such as ongoing vulnerability, age, and caring responsibilities. An employee cannot be furloughed and on SSP or sickness leave at the same time.

Scotland’s system is called NHS Test and Protect, with 700 contract tracers at the moment – increasing to 2,000 later. It was launched as the easing of lockdown restrictions begins.

Contact tracing, exclusively by telephone at the moment, is already up and running in Northern IrelandFind out more information.

Meanwhile in Wales, plans to trace the contacts of people who receive a positive coronavirus test result will roll out from 1 June.

(Article by Melanie Darlington, Senior HR Consultant, Alcumus)