As employees return to the physical workplace, both organisations and their workers must realise that the coronavirus pandemic still presents a danger. COVID-19 remains a major health threat that can spread quickly among colleagues. With that in mind, it’s necessary for employers to stay up to date on self-isolation practices and processes to ensure that employees who test positive for COVID-19 or who may have been exposed to it take the proper precautions.
What Is Self-Isolation?
Self-isolation means that an employee does not leave their home or a different single location, such as a hotel, due to the possibility that they may have contracted COVID-19. This helps prevent the person from spreading the virus to others. When self-isolating, employees should adhere to the following:
- Do not go to work, school or public places
- Do not use public transport or taxis
- Order food or medicine online, or ask someone to deliver it
- Avoid having any visitors, including friends and family. Essential care workers should be the only people visiting
- Do not go out in public to exercise
Self-isolation should last 10 days, starting from the day COVID-19 symptoms started or from the day a positive test was taken.
When to Self-Isolate
Employees should be instructed to immediately isolate themselves and take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test as soon as possible if they experience the following symptoms:
- A high temperature
- A new, continuous cough
- A loss or change to sense of taste or smell
Even if not experiencing symptoms, employees should also self-isolate if:
- They have tested positive for COVID-19
- They live with someone who is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or has tested positive for the virus
- They have been ordered to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace following contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19
If an employee lives with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms of the virus, they may be exempt from having to self-isolate in the following situations:
- The employee is fully vaccinated, meaning that it has been at least 14 days since their final jab
- The employee is younger than 18 years and 6 months old
- The employee is taking part of or has taken part in a COVID-19 vaccine trial
- The employee is unable to get vaccinated for COVID-19 due to medical reasons
Even if qualified for one of these exemptions, employers should still encourage workers to take a PCR test, limit interaction with people at higher risk of COVID-19 and adhere to guidance regarding catching and spreading the virus.
While employers can hope that their workers will be honest and responsible in following self-isolation requirements, it can be difficult to be aware of each employee’s situation. Self-isolating workers are legally obligated to inform their employers of the start and end dates of their isolation period; however, employees may be reluctant to do so if their income will be affected. Employers should consider allowing isolating employees to work remotely, if possible.
Organisations should also be aware that employees who qualify for one of the aforementioned isolation exemptions are not legally required to inform their employer of their contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Employers can consider rules that require employees to disclose these contacts. Furthermore, it may be advisable to require employees in these situations to stay away from the physical workplace until a PCR test can show that they are not a threat to spread the virus to colleagues. Employers will be required to provide pay for employees in these situations, even if they are not able to work remotely.
While it may be tempting for employers to incentivise vaccination, it’s important to understand that any such practices could lead to costly discrimination claims. Reasons for an employee not being vaccinated may be related to a protected characteristic, such as their race, religion or disability. Organisations should also note that there may be risks involved with requiring employees to reveal their vaccination status at all. By having this information about their workforce, an employee could possibly allege that future penalties, punishments or actions taken by the organisation were motivated by that knowledge.
Self-isolation is a key safety precaution that employers across all sectors should take seriously. As more
workers return to the workplace, the risk of COVID-19 spreading amongst colleagues will rise. Organisations should implement plans to educate employees about the importance of self-isolation. It’s also important to establish formal policies and programmes that dictate how self-isolation and close contacts will be managed.
For more information on safely returning to the workplace, contact us today.