The new NHS test and trace system will ask anyone in England who is tested positive for COVID-19 to log onto the test and trace website and provide details of anyone they have recently been in contact with.
Contact tracers will then work to track down and contact these people and ask them to stay at home for 14 days, even if they have no symptoms. Similar systems are active in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Wales will introduce its system in early June.
In light of this announcement, the government is calling on employers to encourage their staff to follow the rules and to support them in staying away from work if asked to isolate. Essentially, this means that employees may need to take weeks off work with limited notice, and it is essential that employers are aware of what to do in this situation.
Staff told to self-isolate in line with government guidance should receive statutory sick pay (SSP) of £95.85 per week from day one of their absence, if they meet eligibility criteria for SSP. This is the case whether they have coronavirus symptoms or not. If the company provides any additional contractual pay, it is down to them if they would also pay this in the period of self-isolation.
The government accepts that not everyone contacted will display symptoms and, to this end, employers should consider if these individuals can be asked to work from home during their period of self-isolation. If this is not possible, or they do become unwell, they will need to be provided at least SSP.
To help cover SSP costs, from 26 May 2020 eligible employers can reclaim up to two weeks of SSP from the government that has been paid out due to absence related to the coronavirus.
This is called the Coronavirus SSP Rebate Scheme. To be eligible to apply for the scheme, employers must have had less than 250 members of staff on 28 February 2020. While most staff can be claimed for, including zero hour workers, they must have been on a PAYE payroll scheme created and started on or before 28 February 2020.