COVID-19 testing at work: dos and don’ts

Kate Palmer - HR Advice and Consultancy Director

March 02 2021

In England, you can now sign up to take part in the government’s COVID-19 workplace testing scheme - no matter how many employees you have. 

And that’s great news. Quickly identifying positive cases will help you keep your staff safe and your business running.

When it comes to rapid testing, there are certain things you need to consider. Here’s our important dos and don’ts for your business:

When you set up workplace COVID testing, do…

Create a plan first

Before you start testing your staff, you need to be clear about your own goals. It’s important to know the answers to these questions first:

  • Which employees are you planning to test? Will you test staff who aren’t on your payroll, like contractors?
  • How often will you test your staff?
  • How will you report the results to Public Health England? Will someone take responsibility for this role?

Share a COVID-19 testing policy with your staff

Lateral flow testing might seem daunting to your employees. After all, it’s unlikely you’ve asked your staff to do anything like it before.

But these aren’t normal times. To help businesses stay open, regular testing could soon be an everyday part of life.

To reassure your employees, it helps to be fully open about the entire process. Before your staff take a test, they should understand:

  • Why you’re setting up workplace testing
  • Where and how you’ll carry out the testing
  • Who will manage the testing process (i.e. a third-party company)
  • Where they can seek advice about their rights (i.e. their union)
  • How you’ll process their results and personal data
  • What will happen after a positive test result

You can keep this information in your COVID-19 testing policy. It’s good to share the policy in a place staff can easily access – so they’ll always have the information to hand.

Encourage your staff to take a test

As an employer, it’s your job to highlight the benefits of workplace testing.

Testing staff without symptoms can reduce the risk of the virus in your workplace. With a smaller chance of working near a positive case, your staff are less likely to get ill or pass the virus onto their loved ones at home.

Workplace testing could also be the difference between sending everyone home to isolate for 10 days or staying open for business.

Aside from sharing these benefits, you can lead by example. If you take tests regularly, you’ll show there’s nothing to be concerned about.

Consider support for self-isolating staff

You could consider offering more financial support for staff who receive a positive test result. If staff are anxious about not receiving their full wage during isolation, they could be hesitant to take a test in the first place.

Offering additional support could help ease their concerns and boost testing uptake in your workplace.

When you carry out COVID testing, don’t…

Discipline staff for not taking a test

Requiring your staff to take a test could lead to an unfair dismissal claim. Unless you have a valid reason to enforce testing – like if your staff can’t physically socially distance – it’s not worth risking a tribunal.

Staff might have personal reasons for not wanting to take a test. Instead of heading down the disciplinary route, try to address their concerns and discuss the importance of testing.

Misuse your staff’s personal data

While you can tell staff about the number of potential or confirmed cases, you shouldn’t name any individuals. If an employee tests positive, they have a right to keep that to themselves.

It’s also important not to hold onto employee’s results for any longer than necessary. And as part of typical GDPR rules, you need to tell staff how long you plan to store their data.

Allow positive cases to come into work

When an employee gets a positive result, they need to isolate at home. If you let them work anywhere else, you could receive a Fixed Penalty Notice for £1,000 or more.

Remember, staff can claim Statutory Sick Pay when they need to self-isolate for four days or more. People who receive a positive test need to isolate for 10 days, so your staff can claim for this entire period. Unlike the usual process, they won’t need to take the first four days unpaid.

On top of this, the government are considering offering £500 to any workers who need to self-isolate. This hasn’t been confirmed yet, but it’s something to look out for.

Forget other COVID-secure measures

Workplace testing isn’t a substitute for social distancing. Sticking to distancing guidelines means you can protect everyone in your business, even if an employee tests positive for COVID-19.

And that means you can keep your business running – since your entire workforce won’t need to self-isolate for being near a positive case.

Need a COVID-testing policy for your workplace?

Workplace testing can help your business get back to normal – but regularly testing your staff is anything but.

From carrying out tests to dealing with the data, there’s a lot to wrap your head around. And without a dedicated policy, you could confuse your staff or open yourself up to legal claims.

The good news is, Peninsula’s here to help. Our HR experts can create a COVID-19 testing policy to keep your business safe and compliant.

Not a Peninsula client? Simply fill out our enquiry form to get started.

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