The British Chambers of Commerce has called on the UK government to provide businesses with free or low-cost Covid testing kits to help them cope with a large number of the workforce catching the Covid-19. 

On the 1st of April 2022, free NHS flow testing kits for Covid-19 in England ended. Instead, pharmacies offer the kits in various size packs starting from under £2 for a single test to £10 for a pack of five. 

The British Chambers of Commence said that three-quarters of employers reported high staff sickness due to the Covid-19 in the past four weeks. Covid-19 cases peaked in March, with 5 million people infected with the virus at the end of March. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed that the peak in office-based staff cases has occurred in recent weeks.  

The official rules and guidance by the government regarding testing and isolation have been something of a comfort blanket for employers, but now companies face a new minefield. The onus is now on companies to keep staff safe, with all restrictions lifted in England. 

Testing Times 

The typical issues employers now face are what policies to put in place if people think they might have Covid-19. Given that employees are under no obligation to test regularly, and it is unlikely that they will want to pay for the test privately, employers face a difficult choice when safeguarding and regular testing.

In addition, as there is no obligation for employees to test for Covid-19, they may attend work while infectious and spread the virus among the company workforce. Furthermore, how do employers handle employees who frequently believe or claim they have Covid-19 symptoms and refuse to pay for testing themselves. Do employers allow them to remain at home or pay for testing? 

Getting employees on the side of your company’s testing policy will be crucial. However, given the government’s change in approach to one of now ‘living with Covid-19’ employees may not be comfortable testing regularly and the blanket testing of staff may be viewed as inappropriate. 

Given the changing approach to Covid-19, there is also likely to be a heightened risk of vulnerable employees (those at higher risk of serious illness) contracting the virus in the workplace. Therefore, how an employer deals with Covid-19 and the individual concerns from vulnerable staff will need to be carefully considered in any risk assessment carried out.

Managing Covid-19 is clearly going to continue to create challenges for employers. There needs to be a careful balance between a return to ‘normal’ weighed against the risk of Covid-19 spreading, creating Health and Safety risks and, potentially, business interruption. It’s important to keep any Covid-19 policies under regular review and to be prepared to change them if a new variant emerges or hospitalisation rates increase.

Data Protection

With restrictions lifted, employers will need to consider the data they gather and whether they have a lawful basis for processing such data. For example, employers may have previously kept details of positive test results to monitor how long employees should be isolating. However, now that the requirement to isolate is no longer mandatory, employers may not lawfully be able to request such information or hold such information under GDPR.

Be Ready for Change 

The introduction of the ‘living with Covid-19’ approach does not mean that the pandemic is over. Employers therefore shouldn’t behave as though it has. Covid-19 is, unfortunately, still very much part of our day to day lives and employers should be prepared to adapt quickly to ensure the health, safety and mental and physical wellbeing of their employees.

If you need assistance setting a policy for Covid-testing that fits your company’s size, flexible working and sickness policy and your approach to risk assessments, IHRS is here to help. We can work with your business to design a tailor made Covid strategy.

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