Coronavirus - Returning to the office
Employers need to start planning the way in which their staff can return to their workplace whether that is part time, full time, in shifts, on a rota or any variation. In this article we look at some of the key points that employers need to consider.
It is not intended as an exhaustive list; different organisations will have different needs, but these are general pointers:
- Testing for essential workers
The Government has rolled out testing for Covid-19 to all essential workers in order to be able to identify who has the virus so that they can isolate in accordance with the guidelines. The full list of those essential workers who are eligible for testing is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/coronavirus-testing-extended-to-all-essential-workers-in-england-who-have-symptoms.
- How to access testing for essential workers
Employers of essential workers can register and refer their staff for tests, any queries regarding this process are directed towards the Department of Health and Social Care at email@example.com. Employees can book tests directly through https://self-referral.test-for- coronavirus.service.gov.uk/. We understand that home testing kits are very limited and a drive through test is likely to be more readily available.
- How should employers deal with the test results?
If the employee has tested negative, they are able to return to work providing they are well enough and have been without a high temperature for 48 hours. Their family members should also not have any symptoms and have tested negative.
If the employee has tested positive the employer should put the employee on sick leave and pay SSP and/or contractual sick pay during the isolation period. The employee should not be required to work at all.
- How do employers deal with the rest of workforce if an employee has tested positive?
This is a new situation. We believe that the employer would probably need to carry out a reasonable contact tracing exercise to identify members of staff who have had contact with the employee who tested positive in order to meet their health and safety obligations in providing a safe place of work.
Once the Government has released comprehensive guidance on testing and contact tracing, we advise you to follow this, in the meantime employers may want to consider developing a testing policy as part of their return to work policies. Employers are under a duty to take reasonable efforts to keep up to date with public health advice, Government advice and health and safety advice as and when it is made available. Any internal policies need to incorporate and build upon
those sources as their foundation. Employers should be prepared for their policies to be subject to change over the coming weeks and months as the situation develops.
- Effective contact tracing
Employers will need to consider how to deal with testing and contact tracing within their workplace. There is talk of an NHS app to deal with this but it is still at the testing stage.
Measures such as distancing, personal protective equipment and rotation of staff will need to be in place to stop the spread of the virus. Being able to trace who a member of staff has had contact with will be essential. We suggest that to facilitate this, employers will need to:
- Make sure that emergency contact details for staff are current
- Ensure staff are signing in and out
- Limiting contact between staff by partitioning or limiting use of common areas
- Use a one way systems within the workplace
- Discourage the use of face to face meetings unless essential
- Encourage or insist upon engagement with a contact tracing app if one is rolled out by the government.
This list is not exhaustive, it simply gives an idea of the measures that employers need to consider having in place to ensure that contact tracing can take place.
- Reluctant employees
It is implied term of an employment contract that employees should obey lawful and reasonable instructions given by their employer. The employee is also under a duty to safeguard the health and safety of their colleagues. Whilst refusal of testing maybe seen as unreasonable and could give rise to disciplinary action, employers are urged to tread very carefully in what may be a very emotive environment.
- Privacy and data protection issues
Through testing and contact tracing, employers will be collecting personal medical data relating to employees and others. This is classed as ‘special category’ sensitive personal data. Employers should only collect the information they need and ensure that the usual safeguards are in place to ensure confidentiality and security. Employers can process and disclose special category data where necessary to comply with their legal obligations so long as it is necessary and proportionate. Employees do not need to give their consent but should be informed about what their data is being used for. Employers will need to update privacy notices or provide a Covid-19 supplementary notice to ensure the new processes are incorporated.
Employers should avoid naming anyone who had tested positive, if this is necessary then the employee should be informed in advance and it should be handled sensitively by the employer.