Self-isolation and the workplace

Posted on 8th October 2020

With workplaces returning to the office or workplace and the possibility of employees coming into contact with Covid-19, we thought it important to provide you with some guidance on the steps you need to take.  Below are the common queries we are receiving at the moment and the relevant responses.  If you would like to speak to a consultant about a specific scenario, please call us.

What is meant by a ‘contact’

The Government has confirmed that a ‘contact’ is a person who has been close to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 anytime from 2 days before the person was symptomatic up to 10 days from onset of symptoms (this is when they are infectious to others). For example, a contact can be:

  • people who spend significant time in the same household as a person who has tested positive for COVID-19
  • sexual partners
  • a person who has had face-to-face contact (within one metre), with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, including:
    • being coughed on
    • having a face-to-face conversation within one metre
    • having skin-to-skin physical contact, or
    • contact within one metre for one minute or longer without face-to-face contact
    • a person who has been within 2 metres of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes
    • a person who has travelled in a small vehicle with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or in a large vehicle or plane near someone who has tested positive for COVID-19

Where an interaction between 2 people has taken place through a Perspex (or equivalent) screen, this would not be considered sufficient contact, provided there has been no other contact such as any of those indicated above.

My employee has reported that they have been in ‘contact’ with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19…

Contacts of a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 need to self-isolate at home because they are at risk of developing symptoms themselves in the next 14 days and could spread the virus to others before the symptoms begin.  Individuals could be fined if they do not stay at home and self-isolate.  Follow the advice from Track and Trace.

The current guidance states that you do not need to isolate if you have not been contacted by NHS Track and Trace, a word of caution however, not all individuals have use of the Track and Trace App and there are reports that the App is not working as expected.  We would advise a sensible approach to these situations.

Testing is not required unless symptoms develop.

Self-Isolating employees are eligible for SSP payment as long as they meet the criteria below;

  • they have coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • they have coronavirus symptoms, for example a high temperature, a new continuous cough or a loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste
  • someone in their household has coronavirus symptoms
  • they’ve been advised to stay at home by their doctor because of an underlying health condition
  • they’ve been told to self-isolate by a doctor or NHS 111
  • they’ve been told to self-isolate by a government ‘test and trace’ service, because they’ve been in close contact with someone who tested positive.

Self-Isolation Package

The Government have introduced the following;

By law people who are required to self-isolate from 28 September will be supported by a payment of £500 for those on lower incomes who cannot work from home and have lost income as a result.

There are new fines for those breaching self-isolation rules, these start at £1,000 but could increase to up to £10,000 for repeat offences and for the most serious breaches, including for those who are preventing others from self-isolating.  Forcing your employee to come to work if they should be isolating or penalising them for doing so could mean the full extent of the fine.

A number of steps will be taken to make sure that people are complying with the rules, these include:

  • NHS Test and Trace call handlers making regular contact with those self-isolating, with the ability to escalate any suspicion of non-compliance to Local Authorities and local police;
  • Using police resources to check compliance in highest incidence areas and in high-risk groups, based on local intelligence;
  • Investigating and prosecuting high-profile and egregious cases of non-compliance; and
  • Acting on instances where third parties have identified others who have tested positive but are not self-isolating.

The new Test and Trace Support payment of £500 will ensure that those on low incomes are able to self-isolate without worry about their finances. People in receipt of benefits in England will be eligible for this payment, which will be available to those who are required to self-isolate from 28 September.  This may not be applicable to all of your employees, a discussion will be needed, and perhaps different arrangements made with some employees, such as taking annual leave for periods of non-pay.

Local Authorities are working quickly to set up these self-isolation support schemes and we expect them to be in place by 12 October. Those who start to self-isolate from 28 September will receive backdated payments once the scheme is set up in their Local Authority.

Can I ask my employee for proof of the need to isolate…

If the employee is contacted by the Track and Trace service, they will have details and will be likely to share this with you.  However, as the SSP rules apply the employee is able to self-certify for the first 7 days in line with your normal sickness reporting procedures.  The employee should be able to get an online self-isolation note from the NHS website.

My employee has tested positive for Covid-19…

The employee should self-isolate for 10 days and anyone in their house should isolate for 14 days.  SSP should be paid with the possibility of the Self-Isolation Package.

You need to act quickly; this may affect other employees and you may need to send the group of employees, who are contacts as defined above or if they are told by test and & trace, home to isolate.  Consider working from home for these individuals.  Be mindful of the confidentiality element, you will not be able to give information as to the individual who has tested positive to the group.  There may be some concern from these individuals, this will need to be managed as they will effectively be being forced to be paid SSP if they are unable to work from home.

You may need to follow specific cleaning advice for your premises.

If you have a group of employees who test positive, an ‘outbreak’ then Public Health England advice should be sought, and this may be a RIDDOR report requirement but you may need to seek advice from HSE to determine this.

My employee has presented with symptoms of Covid-19…

Send the employee home, they will need to isolate for 10 days, and advise them to arrange a test.  If negative then the employee may wish to attend to work, however, it should be established whether the employee is well enough to work under your normal workplace rules considering the symptoms they are presenting with.

My employee has presented at work with symptoms of Covid-19 and refuses to go home…

Under your duty of care as an employer you are entitled to send the employee home and ask them to isolate.  Refusal to leave the workplace could be a serious breach of health and safety rules as it poses a risk to your workplace and current employees.

This situation can often mean that there are other factors involved, please contact us to discuss, the employee may be worried about finances, feeling isolated at home or worried about their job.

My employee has symptoms and refuses to get tested for Covid-19…

This is a difficult situation as it is a medical procedure that we can’t physically force, however, an implied term of your employment contract is that an employee has a duty to obey lawful and reasonable instructions given by the employer.  Whilst there is no formal case law to confirm this, in the case of COVID-19, both the employer and employee also have a duty to safeguard the health and safety of co-workers.   As a consequence, unreasonable refusal to take a test could be deemed to constitute a breach of their employment contract and be followed up as a disciplinary action.  Again, in lieu of a test, any employee displaying symptoms should follow instructions to self-isolate.

My employee has told me that someone they live with has symptoms of Covid-19

Individuals who live with someone who has developed symptoms must self-isolate for 14 days.  The individual may be able to work from home if this is possible considering the type of work that they do.  If they cannot work from home, then the SSP rules will apply.

 

The guidance on this does change all of the time so please continue to check;

 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-for-contacts-of-people-with-possible-or-confirmed-coronavirus-covid-19-infection-who-do-not-live-with-the-person/guidance-for-contacts-of-people-with-possible-or-confirmed-coronavirus-covid-19-infection-who-do-not-live-with-the-person

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance

We will keep our clients updated when more information becomes available.

As always, if you need our help with this or any other HR advice then do call us on 01536 215240.

Lindsay Baker Character
Written by:
Lindsay Baker
Head of HR