Opinion

Test and Trace | Your questions answered

Test and Trace | Your questions answered

In excess of 30,000 close contacts of people who have tested positive for coronavirus were identified during the first week of the test and trace system in England, figures show.

And of those, 85% were contacted and asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

Introduced as part of a package of measures to ease lockdown restrictions anyone who develops symptoms must get tested and self isolate for seven days. If negative they can return to work, but if positive the test and trace team will be in touch to trace contacts.

Anyone deemed to be at risk of catching the virus will be instructed to self-isolate for 14 days but members of their family don't have to self-isolate unless someone in the house actually develops symptoms. A complex picture indeed!

There is a concern though from businesses that the new system is short in detail and could have massive implications on the workplace, but as we all have a part to play we take a look at some frequently asked questions.

As an employer, what do I need to do to adhere to the guidance?

It is vital that employers play their part by making the workplace as safe as possible, encouraging workers to heed any notifications to self-isolate, and support them when in isolation.

It’s helpful if you talk to your employees about their obligations under test and trace. A supporting policy could be very helpful, reminding employees of their obligations and detailing yours as an employer.

Be clear who is a “close contact” and where an employee reports in with symptoms, identify if there is anyone who falls into this category so appropriate steps can be implemented as necessary

Provide the employee with the name of an individual in the company who can provide the test and trace team with any information they need, or who the employee can turn to for support.

Remind employees to inform you immediately if their test result is positive, allowing the business to pre-empt contact from test and trace and subsequent notifications which will potentially be made to co-workers from test and trace.

If employees are asked to provide details of co-workers directly by test and trace, they should not share personal details, without speaking to their employer first. Employers still to have to remain GDPR compliance and ensure they look after sensitive data including contact details and the health and wellbeing status of their employees. General employment law also continues to apply in all circumstances.

It’s important too that employers update company privacy policies to incorporate this scenario.

What happens if an employee has broken the workspace social distancing regulations or health and safety rules when identifying contacts?

The test and trace system will only work effectively if everyone takes their responsibilities seriously and so any breach by a worker/employee should be handled with care. If employees are scared of any possible repercussions this may result in putting the workplace at risk and a possible Public Health England inspection.

What should I do if contacted by Public Health England (PHE)?

In some cases PHE might get in touch with you as an employer and ask for personal data to assist with an investigation – you can be compelled to give information, but should keep a clear record of what is divulged and ensure it does not give away more information than is necessary. Processing of that data will then also fall under PHE/NHS obligations (who already process significant amounts of health data).

There is some concern at the present time regarding the privacy practices of PHE/NHS (for example how long data is kept for – up to 20 years in some cases and the government’s alleged failure to carry out a data privacy impact assessment). Whatever the concern they do not affect the underlying employer obligations that already exist.

Who is required to self isolate?

We are all familiar with the workers/employees but this now includes anyone who has received a notification from the NHS’s test and trace service, which will include co-workers

  • A worker/employee who has coronavirus symptoms and is awaiting test results;
  • An employer or worker who has tested positive for coronavirus;
  • Where someone in their household has symptoms or has tested positive for coronavirus; or
  • Where they have been in close recent contact with someone who has tested positive and received a notification to self-isolate from NHS test and trace.

What is the criteria used for identifying additional people potentially infected (i.e. those who would have to self-isolate) if a member of staff tests positive?

Currently the criteria is anyone who has been in contact with the person who has tested positive at a distance of less than two metres for a period of 15 minutes or more. It is understood that this means 15 minutes in one spell rather than a cumulative 15 minutes.

The current guidance does not appear to make an allowance for additional measures an employer has implemented, such as Perspex screens or employees wearing elements of PPE. This has only been recognised by the government in a health and care setting as making a contribution.

When do co-workers potentially need to isolate?

An employee who is starting to develop symptoms may ask their employers to notify co-workers for them, but they are not obliged to. Until an employee receives a positive test, contacts do not need to self isolate, but this picture will change once the results are known and they are potentially contacted by test and trace.

What should an employer do if staff and co-workers become affected?

Employers must play their part in supporting employees in not coming into the workplace for the appropriate self-isolation period, ensuring that they either work from home or take annual leave, or do not work and are paid statutory sick pay (SSP). Working from home where possible should continue to be the preferred option for all employers and employees.

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