NHS Test and Trace in the workplace

What to do if you or someone you employ is required to self-isolate

Businesses should:

  • support workers if they are required to self-isolate
  • support workers to follow the wider stay at home guidance to keep themselves and others safe
  • continue targeted asymptomatic testing in high-risk workplaces
  • display an NHS QR code poster and have a system for non-digital users, so that people can be notified if they may have been exposed to the virus
  • improve ventilation
  • advise those who have tested positive to identify close contacts, so they can follow the relevant public health guidance

NHS Test and Trace

NHS Test and Trace:

  • provides free testing for anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 to find out if they have the virus
  • gets in touch with anyone who has had a positive test result to collect information about their close contacts, who may also be infectious
  • alerts those contacts, checks whether they are legally required to self-isolate or not and provides them with relevant advice including which tests to take

Current advice is that:

You should self-isolate immediately if you show the main symptoms of COVID-19 and book a PCR test as soon as possible, even if you are fully vaccinated.

You do not need to take a PCR test if you have already taken an LFD test and the result was positive. If you develop any of the main symptoms of COVID-19 and you are concerned, or your symptoms are worsening, contact 111 or speak to your GP. In an emergency dial 999.

If you are notified by NHS Test and Trace of a positive PCR test result or notified by NHS Test and Trace to self-isolate after reporting a positive LFD result, you must self-isolate and will be given guidance on when your self-isolation period can end.

You are also legally required to self-isolate if you have been informed by NHS Test and Trace that you are a contact of a person who has had a positive LFD or PCR test result for COVID-19, unless you meet one of the following conditions:

  • you are fully vaccinated
  • you are below the age of 18 years
  • you have taken part in, or are currently part of, an approved COVID-19 vaccine trial
  • you are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons
  • you are unvaccinated but taking part in an approved workplace daily contact testing (DCT) scheme

There is further information available for people who live with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, and for people who have been notified that they are a contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, but who do not live with the person.

Guidance for employers

It is critical that employers take steps to keep workers and visitors safe. By following the working safely guidance and keeping your workplace clean guidance, employers can reduce the risk of co-workers contracting COVID-19.

Employers should include a health and safety risk assessment that includes the risk from COVID-19.

If any of your workers display symptoms of COVID-19 or test positive

If any workers display symptoms of COVID-19, they should self-isolate and follow the guidance to get a PCR test.

If a worker tests positive on a self-reported LFD test, they should report the result, self-isolate and follow the stay at home guidance. They do not need to take a follow-up PCR test.

Employers should call the Self-Isolation Service Hub on: 020 3743 6715 as soon as they are made aware that any of their workers have tested positive.

Employers should provide the 8-digit NHS Test and Trace Account ID (sometimes referred to as a CTAS number) of the person who tested positive, alongside the names of co-workers identified as close contacts. This should include any co-worker who has been in close contact with the worker who has tested positive, regardless of their vaccination status, age or any other factor which may exempt them from self-isolation.

This will ensure that all workplace contacts are registered with NHS Test and Trace and can be informed that they are a close contact and provided with necessary public health advice – including which test to take and whether they need to self-isolate. It also helps those required to self-isolate to access support.

In the event of an outbreak in the workplace, employers should follow their established outbreak processes and seek advice from their local health protection team as appropriate. Further information on the thresholds for notifying outbreaks and who to contact is available from your local authority.

Identifying if any of your workers is a contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19

close contact is a person who has been close to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Workers can be a contact anytime from 2 days before the person who tested positive developed their symptoms, or before the date of their test if they did not have symptoms, and up to 10 days after. This is when the virus can be passed to others.

A workplace risk assessment may be undertaken to determine this, but a contact can be anyone who:

  • lives in the same household as another person who has COVID-19 symptoms or has tested positive for COVID-19
  • has had any of the following types of contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19:
    • face-to-face contact including being coughed on or having a face-to-face conversation within one metre
    • been within one metre for one minute or longer without face-to-face contact
    • been within 2 metres of someone for more than 15 minutes (either as a one-off contact, or added up together over one day)

A person may also be a close contact if they have travelled in the same vehicle or plane as someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

See guidance for people who live with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, and guidance for non-household contacts.

NHS Test and Trace will not usually consider someone to be a contact if their interaction with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 took place through a Perspex (or equivalent) screen – as long as there has been no other contact such as those in the list above.

The wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) will not be considered as a mitigation when assessing whether a recent contact is likely to have transmitted the virus. Only full medical-grade PPE worn in health and care settings will be considered.

Ensuring your workers self-isolate where necessary

Requirement to self-isolate

If one of your workers is told that they are legally required to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace and is due to work somewhere other than their place of self-isolation, they have a legal duty to inform you as soon as possible before they are next due to work. Failure to do so could result in the worker being issued with a fixed penalty notice of £50.

It is an offence for you (as an employer) to allow a worker to attend the workplace or to work anywhere other than the place they are self-isolating, if you are aware that the worker is legally required to self-isolate. Your firm may be issued with a fixed penalty notice, starting from £1,000 if you do not comply.

These rules apply when NHS Test and Trace notifies a worker that they have either:

  • tested positive for COVID-19
  • been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and are not exempt from self-isolation such as if they are not fully vaccinated

If a worker has received a notification from the NHS COVID-19 app advising them to self-isolate, they are not legally required to inform their employer. If they do, employers are strongly encouraged to support staff to self-isolate.

This NHS guidance explains how long an individual must self-isolate for.

Exemptions from self-isolation

Workers do not need to inform you if they are a contact of a positive case but exempt from self-isolation. Employers are not expected to check whether an individual is exempt from self-isolation.

Individuals identified as contacts are not required to self-isolate if any of the following apply:

  • they are fully vaccinated
  • they are below the age of 18 years
  • they have taken part in or are currently part of an approved COVID-19 vaccine trial
  • they are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons

These contacts are strongly advised to take a daily LFD test for 7 days after they are notified of the contact.

If the worker who has been identified as a contact has a negative LFD test result at the start of the day, they can go to work or school and undertake other daily activities in accordance with national guidance. However, as part of additional risk reduction they are strongly advised to:

  • limit close contact with other people outside their household, especially in crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces
  • work from home if they can
  • wear a face covering in crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces and where they are in close contact with other people
  • limit contact with anyone who is at higher risk of severe illness if infected with COVID-19
  • follow the guidance on how to stay safe and help prevent the spread

This means many workers who are exempt from self-isolation will be able to go to work, but this could depend on the circumstances of the individual employer and workplace. In certain workplaces, for example, health and social care settings, employers may ask workers to take additional precautions.

The worker should be advised to follow the guidance for people who live with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or the guidance for non-household contacts of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

If a worker is legally required to self-isolate and cannot work from home

If a worker is legally required to self-isolate and cannot work from home, employers:

  • should pay contractual sick pay, where appropriate
  • must ensure they receive Statutory Sick Pay as a minimum, provided they meet the eligibility criteria, see Statutory Sick Pay (SSP): employer guide
  • should make workers aware of the support available to help them to self-isolate

Employees that are legally required to self-isolate because of COVID-19 are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay for every day of work missed for their self-isolation period, provided they meet the eligibility criteria.

Find out more about employment rights if someone needs to self-isolate or cannot attend work due to COVID-19.

If you are self-employed, you must continue to work from home if you can. If you cannot, you should follow the sector-specific advice to find out whether you are eligible to apply for support.

Workplace daily contact testing (DCT)

The Workplace DCT scheme offers an alternative to self-isolation for unvaccinated contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases in some sectors and workplaces. There are specific protocols for this scheme.

It is only available to workplaces that have been approved to take part in the Workplace DCT scheme.

Staff working in these workplaces can choose to take part in daily contact testing, rather than self-isolate, if they are unvaccinated and have been identified as a close contact of someone outside their household who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Workplace DCT involves taking a lateral flow test each day for 7 days at an approved testing site within the workplace or, for days on which they do not get tested at an approved testing site, self-isolating at home.

Where the daily test result is negative, staff can attend work and undertake essential activities for the next 24 hours such as buying food if no one else can do it for them, exercise in an outdoor space, and respond to medical emergencies. If the test is positive or they develop symptoms, they should self-isolate immediately and arrange a PCR test. Staff are asked to follow a range of other measures to minimise the risk of onward transmission, such as avoiding poorly ventilated public places.

Employers taking part in the workplace DCT scheme receive training to ensure they are able to provide daily contact testing safely and effectively.

The daily testing for contacts of COVID-19 scheme (DTCC) is for those who are fully vaccinated and identified as close contacts and are under no legal duty to self-isolate.