On 16 August the rules governing self-isolation changed. Those who have been double vaccinated or who fall within another exemption are no longer required to self-isolate when notified that they are a close contact of someone with COVID-19.
This change is likely to be welcome news to those working in sectors hit hardest by the ‘pingdemic’, which kept thousands of workers at home this summer and caused significant disruption to many businesses and industries. However, despite the relaxation of these restrictions and rules, employers should remain alert to their obligations and the need to keep workers and visitors safe.
This update summarises the new exemptions to self-isolation and seeks to answer some of the questions employers may have following the rule change.
What has changed?
Close contacts of someone with COVID-19 no longer have to self-isolate if they are notified by NHS Track and Trace, and they:
- are fully vaccinated,
- are below the age of 18 years and 6 months,
- have taken part in or are currently part of an approved COVID-19 vaccine trial, or
- are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons.
‘Fully vaccinated’ means those who received their second jab at least 14 days before they came into close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.
Those who are exempt will be advised to take a PCR test (as well as other precautions) but will not be required to self-isolate while they await the result.
Q&A: What does this mean for employers?
This quick Q&A is based on the updated government guidance, ‘NHS Test and Trace in the workplace’, which was published by the Department of Health and Social Care. The guidance should be used by employers as a touchstone when navigating issues that may arise as a result of the changes.
1.Does an employee now need to tell us if they are told to self-isolate by NHS Track and Trace?
Employees must inform their employers as soon as possible if they are told to self-isolate by NHS Track and Trace and are due to work somewhere other than their place of self-isolation (e.g. their home). Failure to do so may result in a £50 fine.
They do not need to inform their employer if they are a contact of someone with COVID-19 but fall within one of the exemptions set out above.
2.Do we need to check if an employee is exempt?
No, employers will not be expected to do this under the guidance.
3.What if the employee received a notification via the NHS COVID-19 app?
There is no legal obligation on employees to inform employers if they are alerted via the app.
4.Is it ok to allow an employee to attend the workplace if we are aware that they must self-isolate?
No, this is an offence punishable by a fine starting at £1,000.
If you know that an employee must self-isolate, you must not allow them into the workplace or work anywhere other than where they are self-isolating.
5.Does an employee who is fully vaccinated need to self-isolate if they have symptoms?
Yes. The guidance confirms that even those who have received their second jab should self-isolate immediately if they have symptoms and book a PCR test as soon as possible.
6.What if an employee tests positive?
The self-isolation rules for those who test positive remain in place, so if an employee receives a positive result, they must self-isolate, even if they are fully vaccinated.
Employers should call the Self-Isolation Service Hub and provide further information if a worker tests positive.
7.Is there anything else we should consider?
Among other considerations, employers should revisit their policies and procedures to ensure that they capture the Government’s working safely guidance and keeping your workplace clean guidance. A health and safety risk assessment should also form part of any plans to return to the workplace.
The guidance provides further information on what action employers should take when:
- workers cannot work from home, and
- collecting contact details for NHS Track and Trace.
Employers may also find it useful to signpost staff to the section of the guidance geared towards workers and employees.