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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 whist 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 14 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 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 where demand outstrips supply. 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 in Wales.

When should my employee order a coronavirus test?

It is important that if one of your employees is demonstrating 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. This is not about enforcement or surveillance.

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.

The contact tracer will take into consideration any additional circumstances, such as contacts who work in health and social care professional roles and the correct use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), any protective screens used in the workplace, and adherence to the 2m distancing rule which, if correctly followed, will not be regarded as a contact for these purposes.

A second contact tracer will then get in touch with the people on the list that your employee has provided. 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, advised to self-isolate for 14 days from their last contact with your employee.

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, this is a voluntary process and individuals can decline to provide information.

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 individual 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.

They are asked to provide details of contacts of individuals they have been in close proximity on any occasion within or outside of the workplace 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 ask 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 notified to self-isolate for 14 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 of the instruction to 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 will be asked to 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?

Those who test positive for coronavirus will be asked to isolate for 10 days from the onset of symptoms.  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 will be asked to self-isolate for the period ending 14 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 informed that they are a ‘contact’, they must immediately self-isolate at home for 14 days from the date of their last contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. It is very important that they follow these instructions even if they feel well, as symptoms can take up to 14 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 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 14 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 should continue to self-isolate in line with the national 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 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 is practicable to do so. This might include finding alternative work that can be completed at home during the period of self-isolation. In no circumstances should the individual be permitted to return to work during the self-isolation period. 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.  

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 encouraging their employees to heed any notifications to self-isolate and by supporting them when in 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 measures to improve social distancing, and where contacts that have triggered these notifications are workplace contacts, you should consider what further mitigating actions could be taken to reduce the risk of COVID-19, such as using screens to separate people or “cohorting” to reduce the number of people each person has contact with.

If you are permitted to operate your business, you must do so safely in a way that complies with any restrictions imposed by the Coronavirus Regulations, in addition to other legal obligations imposed on employers (such as health and safety legislation). Employees who are not symptomatic are only allowed to return to the work place if it is not reasonably practicable for them to work from home.

Whilst contact tracing is not about enforcement or 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 therefore 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.

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