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Employers' responsibilities to help with coronavirus testing and contact tracing.

First published:
2 June 2020
Last updated:

About Test, Trace, Protect

Test, Trace, Protect is the Welsh Government’s approach to testing and contact tracing which will help citizens of Wales to resume their normal lives gradually and safely.

Test, Trace, Protect will work by:

  • testing those people who have coronavirus symptoms, asking them to isolate from wider family, friends, co-workers and their community whilst taking a test and waiting for a result
  • tracing those individuals who have been in close contact with the person who has tested positive for coronavirus, requiring them to take precautions and self-isolate (for 10 days)
  • providing advice and guidance, particularly where the person who has tested positive or their contacts are vulnerable or at greater risk
  • ensuring that if the individual tests negative and the symptoms are not due to coronavirus, individuals can get back to work and their normal routines as soon as possible

Test, Trace, Protect will be delivered through the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service which includes a number of public sector partners working together to help contain the spread of the virus. Together, Public Health Wales, local Health Boards, Local Authorities, and NHS Wales Informatics Service (NWIS) will be responsible for implementing one of the biggest public health interventions in a generation.

For further information, visit Test, Trace, Protect: your questions.

This guidance explains how employers in Wales can play their part in helping to deliver Wales’ Test, Trace, Protect strategy to slow the spread of the virus, protect our health and care systems and save lives. This covers their responsibilities to employees and contractors associated with the operation of their business and includes relevant information for the self-employed.

Test

Testing for coronavirus has a number of purposes, it is vital for:

  • diagnosing the virus to help with treatment and care
  • population health surveillance, so we can understand the spread of the disease and can identify clusters and hot spots
  • contact tracing, to control the spread of the virus
  • business continuity, enabling critical workers to return to work more quickly and safely
  • knowing who has had the infection in the past, when antibody testing is available

What is a critical worker?

A policy for testing critical workers was published on 18 April. To help deliver this policy, on 18 May further guidance was issued to identify critical workers to enable employers to consider if their employees are eligible for testing.

How does my employee order a coronavirus test?

Although tests are available to members of the public, daily allocations of tests are prioritised for critical workers. Availability of home testing kits are managed at a UK level, whereas slots at the mass drive-through testing centres are managed through the Local Health Boards and Public Health Wales. All workers can choose between the option of booking a home testing kit or a slot at a mass-drive through testing centre.

When should my employee order a coronavirus test?

It’s important that if one of your employees has at least one of the coronavirus symptoms - a new continuous cough, a high temperature, or a loss of or change to sense of smell or taste, then they must take a test within the first five days of developing symptoms. This is when the test is most effective.

Your employee and members of their household must also follow the self-isolation guidance. If the test is negative no further action is taken and your employee, and other members of their household no longer need to self-isolate. Your employee can then return to work. However, if they receive a positive test result, the contact tracing process will begin.

How will I be notified as an employer if my employee tests positive for coronavirus?

It is the responsibility of the employee to notify their employer if they receive a positive test result. Test results are sent by text message.

Trace

Contact tracing is a tried and tested method of controlling the spread of infectious diseases. The aim is to protect the health of the public, and for you as an employer to protect the health of your workers, in order to control the spread of coronavirus.

As lockdown restrictions are gradually relaxed, we will all need to take steps to protect ourselves - including employers protecting their workers, if we are to successfully limit the spread of the disease. Contact tracing will play an important role for employers in maintaining business continuity and operating a safe workplace.

What does contact tracing involve?

Contract tracing is now an essential part of our Test, Trace, Protect strategy. From 1 June 2020, contact tracing will be established across Wales, and will need to be maintained at a significant level, potentially for the next year or until a vaccine is found. The contact tracing process is described below and includes important information on what constitutes a ‘contact’ and the importance for employers to operate a safe workplace in order to reduce the risk of workplace transmission. The information requested as part of the contact tracing process aims to identify how quickly the virus is spreading and whether there are hotspots of infection.

When your employee receives a positive result, they will be called by a contact tracer on behalf of the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service.

The contact tracer will ask for information such as the places they have visited, and their recent contacts including anyone they may or may not live or work with and with whom they have been in close proximity on any occasion during a period beginning up to two days before they started experiencing symptoms. They will be asked for their names, dates of birth, addresses, telephone numbers (including mobile) and email addresses, if they have this information.

A contact means:

  • someone within 1 metre of them with whom they have had a face-to-face-conversation, had skin-to-skin physical contact, have coughed on, or been in other forms of contact within 1 metre or 1 minute or longer
  • someone within 2 metres of them for more than 15 minutes
  • someone they have travelled in a vehicle with - or has been seated near them on public transport.

In determining who will be identified as a contact the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect contact tracer will gather information on the particular situation and will consider any mitigating measures that have been put in place, such as protective screens installed and strict adherence to the 2m distancing rule. Not all contacts, activities, or environments have an equal risk of transmission. Contacts who work in health and social care who have correctly worn specific medical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will not be considered as a contact. There are also a small number of other professional roles, including first responders, emergency workers and immigration enforcement officers, who operate with specific medical PPE for COVID-19 exposure.

Wearing face coverings or visors are sources for control and are not PPE. They are not considered to be a mitigating factor in determining a contact. The decision on whether you will be determined to be a contact and asked to self-isolate will be assessed on a case by case basis. A second contact tracer will get in touch with anyone identified as a close contact. The contact tracer will advise them sensitively that they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

Their identified contacts will be provided with support, and told to self-isolate for 10 days from their last contact with your employee according to the self-isolation guidance.  There are a few exceptional circumstances where they are able to leave self-isolation, such as to seek medical assistance, where urgent or advised by a medical professional.

What about safety of data supplied as part of the contact tracing process?

Contact tracing is a long-established and proven way of slowing the spread of an infection and is not about enforcement or surveillance. Whilst the information gathered as part of the contact tracing process is held in strict confidence.

The NHS Wales Test, Trace and Protect service asks people who have tested positive to identify their close recent contacts and key contact details. The contact tracer does not pass on the name of the person who has tested positive for coronavirus to the people they have been in close contact with unless their permission is given. They are simply advised that due to close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, they may be at risk.

People who have tested positive for coronavirus are asked to provide details of contacts of people they have been in close proximity on any occasion in or outside of work since they have been experiencing symptoms. They will only be asked for details of how to get in touch with their contacts and will never be asked for financial information or social media login details. For further information on the security of data provided as part of the contact tracing process.

How will I be notified as an employer if my employee is asked to self-isolate as part of the contact tracing process?

If one of your employees is asked to self-isolate for 10 days because they have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, and are unable to work as a result, they should notify you that they are unable to work within the deadline you have set in your sickness absence policies (or normally within 7 days if you have not set one).

Contacts will be provided with written confirmation that they must self-isolate which they can share with you.

Will my whole workforce be told to self-isolate if someone tests positive?

Only those who have had close recent contact with someone who then tests positive for COVID-19 must self-isolate.

What support is available if there’s an outbreak in a workplace?

If multiple cases of coronavirus appear in a workplace, an outbreak control team from either the Local Authority or Public Health Wales will, if necessary, be assigned to help you as an employer to manage the outbreak. Employers should seek advice from their Local Authority in the first instance.

What’s the minimum and maximum time an employee can be told to self-isolate for?

Full details are set out in the self-isolation guidance, there are a number of variables according to symptoms, test results and relationship to the main case that may need to be taken into consideration in each case.

In summary, those who test positive for coronavirus must isolate for 10 days from the onset of symptoms, or 10 days from their test (if asymptomatic). If after 10 days, or longer, they still have symptoms other than cough or loss of sense of smell/taste, they must continue to self-isolate until they feel better. Those who have had close recent contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus must self-isolate for 10 days after they came into contact with the person who has tested positive. 

If my employee isn’t showing symptoms, can they leave self-isolation early or take a test?

No, if they have been told they are a ‘contact’, they must immediately self-isolate at home for 10 days from the date of their last contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. It’s very important that they follow these instructions even if they feel well, as symptoms can take up to 10 days to appear from their last contact with someone who has coronavirus and they can infect others even if they don’t develop symptoms. They will only be advised to take a test if they are displaying symptoms - testing while asymptomatic (not showing symptoms) can generate false negatives and is not recommended for these reasons.

If they develop symptoms, they should order a test, and even if they receive a negative result, they must complete the 10 day period of isolation but their household does not need to self-isolate. If they or anyone tested in their household has a positive result, they must continue to self-isolate in line with the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 5) (Wales) Regulations 2020 and follow the self-isolation guidance.

If my employee is asked to self-isolate as part of the contact tracing process, what support should I provide to my employee, including sick pay?

Employers should allow or enable a person to self-isolate, if they have symptoms, if they have been notified by NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect that they need to self-isolate because they have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive.

Employers should continue to communicate with workers in self-isolation and provide support. This includes allowing people to work from home if they remain well and if it’s practical to do so. This might include finding alternative work that can be done at home during the period of self-isolation. In no circumstances should you permit someone to return to work during the self-isolation period. Employers can be under a duty to take all reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus at premises where work is carried out. One of the reasonable measures is to allow and enable an employee to self-isolate if they have tested positive or have had close contact with someone who has tested positive. Therefore employers may be liable for an offence if they do not comply with this measure. Employers can be served with a closure notice. If employers breach that notice, they may be guilty of an offence and could face a fine up to £10,000. In terms of recording sickness, it is recommended that self-isolation as part of the contact tracing process should not be recorded against an employee’s sickness record.  

Self-isolation payment scheme

People on low incomes can apply to receive a £500 payment if they have tested positive for coronavirus or they are asked to self-isolate by the NHS Wales Test Trace Protect service because they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

The payment is available to people on a low income who are unable to work from home and would lose income as a result of self-isolating. To be eligible, people must be self-isolating and in receipt of Universal Credit or another specified benefit.

Read Self-isolation support scheme for more information.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP on GOV.UK) may be available to employees who have been contacted by the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service as they have come into contact with someone who has coronavirus, and are unable to work as a result (subject to eligibility). However, those companies who already provide their own sick pay schemes are encouraged to use these rather than SSP. If your employee cannot work from home whilst they are self-isolating, they may also be entitled to an Employment Support Allowance. If your employee cannot work from home whilst they are self-isolating, they may also be entitled to an Employment Support Allowance (on GOV.UK).

What if I’m self-employed?

If you are self-employed, you should continue to work from home if you can. If this is not possible, the guidance on Keeping Wales Safe at Work should be implemented for your work environment. As part of this, you should continue to think about how you can observe government guidance on social distancing for the people that you meet, such as customers and suppliers.

To help stop the spread of coronavirus, you will be advised to self-isolate if you or another household member develop symptoms or test positive for coronavirus, or if the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service tells you to do so because you have had close recent contact with someone with coronavirus. If it is possible for you to amend your working practices and work from home, then you should do so.

If your business has been adversely affected by coronavirus, you may be eligible for a grant through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (on GOV.UK).

Where can I find out more about Contact Tracing in Wales?

Please visit contact tracing: your questions.

Protect

Wales’ Test, Trace, Protect strategy will help to manage the risk of the virus re-emerging as restrictions on everyday life are eased, as far as it is deemed safe to do so.

It is vital that employers play their part by making their workplaces as safe as possible by ensuring that their employees self-isolate and by supporting them when in self-isolation. If any of your employees have been contacted by the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service to self-isolate on multiple occasions, then you should work with them to consider reasonable measures to improve social distancing. Where contacts that have triggered these notifications are workplace contacts, you should consider what further mitigating actions could be taken to reduce the risk, such as using screens to separate people or creating fixed workgroups” to reduce the number of people each person has contact with.

If you’re permitted to operate your business, you must do so safely in a way that complies with any restrictions imposed by the Coronavirus Restrictions Regulations, in addition to other legal obligations imposed on employers (such as health and safety legislation). In general, employees should only be in the workplace if it is not reasonably practicable for them to work from home. .

Whilst contact tracing is not about surveillance and is in the interests of protecting the health of Wales’ citizens, employers and workers, employers are required by law to protect their employees, contractors and others, from harm. Employers are asked to work with unions to ensure a workforce culture that keeps people as safe as possible and encourage behaviours that minimise the spread of the virus. Although this may seem disruptive for businesses, it is less disruptive than an outbreak of COVID-19 in the workplace will be, and far less disruptive than periods in lockdown.

Where can I find out more about making my workplace safe from coronavirus?

It is important for employers to play their part by making workplaces as safe as possible and by following the guidance on Keeping Wales Safe at Work.