In the case of a suspected case of COVID-19
Many business owners will in the coming weeks be confronted with a worker who is displaying symptoms of COVID-19. Soldiering on is not an option and we must continue to re-enforce at every opportunity that an individual should not go to the workplace if they:
- are unwell with coronavirus symptoms
- are told to self-isolate by a government test and trace service, because they’ve been in close contact with someone who’s testing positive
- need to self-isolate because someone in their household has symptoms
If they’re already at work and displaying symptoms, swift action and leadership is essential and they should be advised:
- immediately to 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 and 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 worker should be advised to arrange a test as soon as practicable
The workplace does not necessarily have to close and the Government has produced cleaning advice.
Remember this is likely to cause anxiety for the person in question, so it is important to be supportive and sensitive to this.
How to manage colleagues who have been in close proximity
You need to act quickly to minimize the risk of the disease spreading. You will need to ask the worker who in the business they have been in “close contact” with within the prior two weeks (closer than 2m for longer than 15 mins).
Workers will be required to isolate if they:
- have coronavirus symptoms and are awaiting a test result
- have tested positive for coronavirus
- are a member of the same household as someone who has symptoms or has tested positive for coronavirus
- have been in close recent contact with someone who has tested positive and received a notification to self-isolate from NHS test and trace.
If they are working in a “bubble” then you may decide to limit the risk of further spread to ask the entire bubble to self-isolate whilst clarity is sought. Further guidance on how to manage this situation moving forward is included in the section on Testing and Tracing.
You need to be mindful of the need to respect confidentiality and that you should not reveal the potentially effected worker’s identity.
When else might a member or staff be required to self-isolate?
If a government ‘test and trace’ service tells someone they’ve been in close recent contact with someone who has tested positive, they must self-isolate for 14 days. If they develop symptoms, everyone else in their household must self-isolate for 14 days.
If someone lives in a household and is the first to have symptoms, they must self-isolate for 7 days. Everyone else in their household must self-isolate for 14 days.
If during this time your are tested and the result is negative, the individual and other household members no longer need to self-isolate.
What if a staff member is reluctant to be tested?
An implied term within an employment contract is that an employee has a duty to obey lawful and reasonable instructions given 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.
In lieu of a test, any employee displaying symptoms should follow instructions to self isolate.
In the case of a subcontractor, you would need to refer to the terms of your contract. It is advisable to remind them on the potential implication of their actions on colleagues who may have been exposed.
Information on Testing and Tracing
Details of the government test and trace services are available here:
- in England, see NHS Test and Trace workplace guidance on GOV.UK
- in Scotland, see Test and Protect advice for employers on gov.scot
- in Wales, see Test, trace, protect advice for employers on gov.wales
We are advised at the time of writing (11th June) that testing can take up to 48 hours to arrange, but results are typically available within 12 hours.
Anyone who tests are positive will be contacted by the NHS test and trace service or local public health teams via a text, email or by phone. They will be asked for the contact details of anyone they’ve been in close proximity to and about places they have visited. Anyone considered at risk of catching the virus will then be contacted and told to self-isolate for 14 days whether they have symptoms or not. The rest of their household does not have to self-isolate unless someone in the house becomes ill.
Testing and tracing is a public health measure, intended to inhibit the spread of the virus as the country slowly comes out of lockdown. It could potentially reveal hotspots where the infection rate is higher and the government has said this information could lead to ‘local lockdowns’ to tackle flare-ups in towns, schools or workplaces.
An NHS Covid-19 contact-tracing app is currently being trialled that will also (anonymously) alert users when they have been in close contact with someone identified as having been infected by the virus.
Supporting staff who need to self-isolate
If someone needs to self-isolate, it’s good practice for employers to:
- send them home immediately, if they’re at work
- support them staying at home while they self-isolate
- arrange for them to work from home, if they’re well enough to work and this is an option
- pay them any sick pay they’re entitled to while self-isolating
- support their wellbeing and mental health – see more about supporting mental health during coronavirus
Depending on someone’s circumstances, they might have to self-isolate more than once during the coronavirus pandemic. Employers should support them in the same way each time.
In these situations, the employer should again look to see whether there are any options for working from home. If this is not possible, it is advisable, in the case of an employee, to treat as a suspension and pay the employee as normal.
Supporting employers with a workplace outbreak
If multiple cases of coronavirus appear in a workplace, an outbreak control team from either the local authority or Public Health England will, if necessary, be assigned to help the employer manage the outbreak. Employers should seek advice from their local authority in the first instance.
How does Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) Work
Employees in self-isolation are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay for every day they are in isolation, as long as they meet the eligibility conditions. Information for employers on reclaiming Statutory Sick Pay is available here.
The FIS is seeking clarification on whether SSP can be claimed if an employee is suspended due to contact as a cautionary measure, but is not displaying symptoms. Currently the criteria on the HMRC website states:
You must keep the following records for 3 years after the date you receive the payment for your claim:
- the dates the employee was off sick
- which of those dates were qualifying days
- the reason they said they were off work – if they had symptoms, someone they lived with had symptoms or they were shielding
- the employee’s National Insurance number
You can choose how you keep records of your employees’ sickness absence. HMRC may need to see these records if there’s a dispute over payment of SSP.
If the worker is self-employed and hence not eligible for SSP through the “employer” and are advised to self-isolate, they would be eligible to make a claim for Universal Credit (UC) or new style Employment and Support Allowance. More information on how to claim is available here.
RIDDOR reporting of COVID-19
You should only make a report under RIDDOR when when it is confirmed that a worker has been diagnosed as having COVID-19 attributed to an occupational exposure to coronavirus. This should be reported as a case of disease. It is recommended that you contact the HSE to advise of your particular circumstances to ensue that it falls under the RIDDOR requirements.
If you have any questions not answered in this article, please send them in to firstname.lastname@example.org or call our helpline on 0121 707 0077.