Coronavirus and Self-Isolation FAQs

It is a legal requirement for individuals to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid-19 or if they have been notified by NHS Test and Trace that they must self-isolate. From Wednesday 22 December 2021, new guidance was published that enables the 10-day self-isolation period for people who have tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) to be reduced to 7 days in most cases.

UPDATES

This page was firstly published on 28 July 2021 and the last update was 19 January 2022.

The media is full of reports of employers who are struggling to operate as their staff are self-isolating because they have been pinged by the NHS Covid-19 app with many being forced to temporarily close their business. On 3 January 2022 Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust declared a state of emergency as they had so many staff who were self-isolating. Concern has also been raised over potential abuse by those looking to stay away from work, especially so since the period of self-certification was increased from 7 to 28 days.

UPDATE 14 JANUARY 2022
From Monday, 17 January, people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in England will be able to end their period of self-isolation after five full days, provided they receive negative test results in two consecutive Lateral Flow Device tests and do not have a temperature.

The first test must be taken no earlier than day 5 of the self-isolation period, and the second must be taken the following day. Day 0 of the isolation period is when the individual first showed symptoms or, if asymptomatic, the day they took the test (whether that is an LFD or PCR test)

Individuals who are still positive on their day 5 LFD test must stay in isolation and wait 23 hours before they try again and keep trying until day 10.

The aim of the change is to support essential public services and keep supply chains running over the winter.

Those who leave self-isolation on or after day 6 are strongly advised to wear face coverings and limit close contact with other people in crowded or poorly ventilated spaces, work from home if they can do so and minimise contact with anyone who is at higher risk of severe illness if infected with COVID-19.

The default self-isolation period continues to be 10 days and may continue in certain circumstances, such as for those who work with vulnerable people. A full list will be published in guidance in due course.

Note that the reduction in the minimum self-isolation period for those who have tested positive for Covid-19 will not have any practical impact where employees are able to work from home. If an employee is well enough to do so, they can continue working from home (and receiving their normal pay) throughout their self-isolation period. If they are too unwell to work, they would be entitled to SSP (and company sick pay, if applicable).

UPDATE 22 DECEMBER 2021
The self-isolation advice for people with COVID-19 has changed. Individuals who test positive for Coronavirus can reduce their self-isolation period to 7 days, to end self-isolatione early the individual must take Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests on day 6 and day 7 of their 10-day self-isolation period and both results must be negative. The tests must be taken 24 hours apart and the first test must be taken no earlier than day 6 of the self-isolation period and if that’s negative a follow up test should be taken 24 hours later.

Those who leave self-isolation on or after day 7 are strongly advised to limit close contact with other people in crowded or poorly ventilated spaces, work from home and minimise contact with anyone who is at higher risk of severe illness if infected with Coronavirus.

Is There A Legal Requirement To Self-isolate?

Individuals are obliged by law to self-isolate if they or someone they live with has Coronavirus symptoms or tests positive, even if they don’t have symptoms. Also, those who are contacted by NHS Test and Trace and are advised to self-isolate or return from a “red list” country should self-isolate. Failure to do so, or an employer insisting an employee comes to work in these circumstances, can result in fines starting at £1,000 for the first offence and increasing to £10,000 for the fourth and subsequent offences.

It is a criminal offence if an employer knowingly allows a worker to attend the workplace when they should be self-isolating. Employers also have statutory health and safety obligations and a legal duty to take reasonable care to provide a safe place of work. Those who are identified as close contacts of positive cases of Coronavirus are reportedly five times more likely to be infected. Employers should take appropriate action to protect their workforce, especially more vulnerable members of staff, by ensuring those who are likely to transmit Coronavirus are kept away from the workplace. In some cases, particularly where employees can work from home, this may mean requiring those who are not legally required to self-isolate to remain away from the workplace.

UPDATE 19 JANUARY 2022
The Prime Minister announced on Wednesday, 19 January, that the Self-Isolation Regulations expire on 24 March 2022 and that he saw no reason to extend them further. He added that were the data to allow, he would seek a vote in the House of Commons to bring that date forwards.

Are the rules different in Wales and Scotland?

Wales have adopted a similar approach as the UK government. However, its guidance is different. The Welsh government says that people who test negative after seven full days, who have a high temperature should continue to self-isolate until their temperature has returned to normal. That advice is not included in the UK’s Guidance: Stay at home: guidance for households with possible or confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) infection or on the NHS’s guide: when to self-isolate.

In Scotland the rules are different and anyone who tests positive has to self-isolate for 10 days. And, those who are close contacts of the person who has tested positive also have to self-isolate for 10 days even if they are fully vaccinated.

Workers With Coronavirus Symptoms

Anyone who exhibits the any of the three “most important symptoms” of Coronavirus (recent onset of a new continuous cough, a high temperature, or loss of, or change in, normal sense of taste or smell) is advised to self-isolate immediately and take a Lateral Flow Device (LFD) test. There is no strict legal requirement to self-isolate with these symptoms unless and until the individual obtains a positive PCR test result or a positive test result from an LFD test. An assisted LFD test is where the person takes the test themselves under the supervision of a trained operator, and this operator processes the test, reads and reports the result.

Anyone who receives a positive LFD test result should report their result on GOV.UK and must self-isolate immediately but will not need to take a follow-up PCR test. After reporting a positive LFD test result, they will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace so that their contacts can be traced and must continue to self-isolate.

Those who are eligible for the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment (TTSP) will still be asked to take a confirmatory PCR if they receive a positive LFD result, to enable them to access financial support.

In line with the reduced self-isolation approach announced on 13 January 2022, anyone who tests positive will be able to leave self-isolation on the 6th day after the date of their initial positive test if they receive 2 negative LFD results, 24 hours apart, on days 5 and 6.

In order to help stop the spread of the virus it would be sensible to ask employees to remain away from the workplace if they have symptoms of Coronavirus and are awaiting test results.

UPDATE 6 January 2022
From 11 January in England, confirmatory PCRs are temporarily paused and will be reintroduced following a reduction in prevalence. This means people who receive positive lateral flow device (LFD) test results for coronavirus (COVID-19) will be required to self-isolate immediately and won’t be required to take a confirmatory PCR test. This is a temporary measure while COVID-19 rates remain high across the UK.

Workers Who Test Positive For Coronavirus

Anyone who conducts a home LFD test (in other words, not under the supervision of a trained operator) is advised to self-isolate immediately and to arrange to have a PCR test. There is no strict legal requirement to self-isolate unless or until the worker receives a positive PCR test result. Again, employers are unlikely to want a worker to attend the workplace in these circumstances, unless the worker then receives a negative PCR result. This should be communicated clearly to the workforce.

If the worker receives a positive PCR test result, they are legally required to self-isolate.

The workplace guidance states that 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. In these circumstances, you would need to provide the eight-digit NHS Test and Trace Account ID of the person who tested positive, alongside the names of co-workers identified as close contacts.

In the event of an outbreak in the workplace, the workplace guidance says that “employers should follow their established outbreak processes and seek advice from their local health protection team as appropriate.”

Workers Whose Household Member Has Coronavirus Symptoms Or Has Tested Positive For Coronavirus

Where an individual lives with someone with Covid-19 they have a higher risk of getting the virus themselves. There is no strict legal requirement for a household member to self-isolate until they are either notified by NHS Test and Trace that they are a close contact of a positive case or they begin to develop symptoms themselves.

Although there is no legal requirement for a household member to self-isolate it would be best practice, to help stop the spread of the virus, to insist this happens.

NHS Test and Trace

It is a legal requirement to self-isolate if an individual is contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service and fines can be issued to those who do not follow the rules contained within the legislation.

Employees who are contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service are also legally required to notify their employer that they have been told to self-isolate.

Employers must not require or encourage someone who is legally required to self-isolate to attend the workplace; to do so exposes the business to a fine, as well as liability under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 for failing to provide a safe place of work.

NHS Covid-19 Smartphone App

Although the advice is to self-isolate when pinged by the app there is no legal requirement to self-isolate or notify the employer when pinged by the NHS Covid-19 smartphone app. A notice to self-isolate from the app is purely guidance and there is no legal penalty for anyone who chooses not to.

This means if an employee has been pinged by the app but doesn’t tell their employer and continues to attend work would not be exposing the business to a fine. It also means you have some discretion when an employee has been pinged and asks you if they can come to work; in these circumstances if you are happy for them to come to work, they can do. You would need to consider your obligations and duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act, that could mean you allow them to come to the workplace on condition:

  • You ensure they are not working in close contact with other employees,
  • They wear a mask, and
  • They take daily PCR tests for the 10-day isolation period and while they return negative tests, they can remain at work but if they return a positive result they must remain at home until they return a negative result.

You would also need to consider whether by allowing them to come to work you’re creating a risk for someone else as they could be infectious and could spread the virus around your workplace.

If you decide it’s safer for them to remain away from work, you will need to consider whether they can perform their role at home. If they can work from home and are well enough to work, there is no reason to not all this and they should be paid as usual for their work.

Alternatively, if your employee is not able to work from home or does not qualify for SSP, you could offer that the employee takes annual holiday, so that they can be paid in full for the period of isolation.

If no other options are available, you may have to approve a period unpaid leave.

Given that there is no legal requirement to inform the employer about an app alert (unlike the legal requirement to inform the employer when they test positive for COVID-19 or are identified as a close contact by NHS Test and Trace) a keep away from work with no pay rule may be difficult to implement.

The government has stressed that it is “crucial” for individuals to self-isolate and businesses should help employees to do so.

Vaccine Exemptions
From 16 August 2021, anyone who has close contact with someone who has tested positive for Coronavirus will no longer have to self-isolate if they have had two vaccinations and have no symptoms. There is no legal requirement to take daily PCR tests, but individuals are encouraged to do so. If their test comes back positive, they will need to isolate.

Who Is A Close Contact?
Government guidance confirms that a contact is a person who has been close to someone who has tested positive for Coronavirus. The contact can take place any time from two days before the person who tested positive developed their symptoms (or if they did not have any symptoms, from two days before the date their positive test was taken) and up to ten days after. A risk assessment may be undertaken to determine who is a contact. The statutory regulations state that a close contact includes anyone who:

  • has face to face contact with someone at a distance of less than 1 metre;
  • spends more than 15 minutes within 2 metres of an individual; or
  • travels in a car or other small vehicle with an individual or in close proximity to an individual on an aeroplane.

An individual who is a contact will be notified by the NHS Test and Trace service via text message, email or phone.

Critical Services
On 19 July 2021, the government has updated the Test and Trace workplace guidance to provide further information on the self-isolation exemption for those notified as a contact of a positive Covid-19 case but who are providing critical services. Employers who believe that self-isolation of certain key employees would result in serious disruption to critical services are instructed to contact the relevant government department for their sector, applications will be agreed on a case-by-case basis. If eligible, approval will be confirmed in a letter to the employer setting out the names of the employees who are affected and any relevant measures that must be followed.

To participate in the scheme, in addition to working in a critical role, the employee must be fully vaccinated.

Targeted Testing Schemes
The government is in the process of rolling out new targeted testing (Daily Contact Testing) for certain workplaces. If covered by this scheme, workers who have been identified as close contacts of a positive case, by either NHS Test and Trace or the NHS COVID-19 app, will not need to self-isolate, but instead will be able to continue working if they test negative on a daily basis.

The government is currently planning to expand the Daily Contact Testing to a total of 2,000 sites of frontline services. This includes critical staff working in prisons, defence and waste collection as well as people working in energy, pharmaceuticals, telecoms, chemicals, communications, water, space, fish, veterinary medicine, HMRC, the food industry, transport workers, Border Force staff, frontline police and fire services.

This exemption will only apply to organisations who have been contacted by NHS Test and Trace and have set up a Daily Contact Testing site.

What Checks Are Acceptable?

The employer guidance says that “Employers are not expected to check whether an individual is exempt from self-isolation.”

The conservative view would be to state that all close contacts should work from home for 10 days, irrespective of age or vaccination status, then the need to check vaccination status is removed. You could suggest that all employees remain at home for five days after a close contact and then have the option to take a PCR test at that point if they wish to return to the workplace before the full 10 days. This would reduce the chance of employees returning post a negative test, only to develop COVID-19 shortly after.

Where employees cannot work from home, you may wish to consider whether you can make other modifications to work location/duties to reduce the risk of transmission. This would particularly be the case where someone who has been in close contact with a positive case will be in proximity in the workplace to a clinically extremely vulnerable employee.

Where there has been an outbreak of Coronavirus in the workplace, you may wish to check which employees can legally continue to work, by checking vaccination statuses before NHS Test and Trace has become involved.

What About Compliance With GDPR?

The ICO has an advice note for organisations about vaccination and COVID-19 status checks. It is clear that vaccine status is special category data and so special rules apply to processing such data under the GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018. The ICO says “If you are only conducting a visual check of NHS COVID Passes (either a hard-copy document or a pass held on a digital device) and do not retain any personal data from it, this would not constitute ‘processing’. The activity would therefore fall outside of the UK GDPR’s scope.”

By analogy, anything beyond a purely visual check, such as recording the consequences of the visual check are likely to fall within the GDPR.

Does Statutory Sick Pay Apply When An Employee Is Self-Isolating?

Where an employee is eligible for SSP and are self-isolating and off work for at least four days in a row (including usual non-working days), they will be entitled to SSP for every day they’re off work, if one or more of the following applies:

  • They are self-isolating for 10 days with Coronavirus symptoms
  • They have tested positive for Coronavirus following a PCR test
  • They have been notified by the NHS or public health authorities that they have had close contact with someone who has tested positive for Coronavirus
  • Someone who they live with or from their support bubble has symptoms of Coronavirus, or has tested positive for Coronavirus. The definition of a linked or extended household varies between England and the devolved nations. A linked household in England is where a single adult or a single parent with children under the age of 18 have chosen to be linked together with another household.
  • They are not fully vaccinated and have been officially notified that they should self-isolate under the NHS Test and Trace service (because they have been identified as a close contact of someone who tested positive) and is not able to work remotely or exempt from self-isolating.
  • Anyone who is unable to work from home and has been advised by a medical professional to self-isolate for a period of 14 days before admission to hospital for surgery

Fully vaccinated individuals (vaccinated with an MHRA approved Covid-19 vaccine in the UK with 14 days having passed since receiving the recommended dose) do not need to self-isolate following notification by NHS Test and Trace that they have been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for Covid-19.

Under the latest guidance for contacts of people with confirmed coronavirus, with effect from 14 December 2021, vaccinated close contacts are “strongly advised” to take a lateral flow test every day for seven days (or 10 days since their last contact with the person who tested positive if that is earlier).

Anyone testing positive following a PCR test are still also legally required to self-isolate, irrespective of vaccination status, and anyone who develops Covid symptoms should self-isolate and take a PCR test (and remain in isolation until the results come back).

Those who are simply asked by their employer to isolate will not be entitled to statutory sick pay or a support payment. Asking employees to take unpaid leave when they have no symptoms and they are not legally required to self-isolate is unpalatable and may result in employees not notifying you that they have been advised to self-isolate.

Does SSP Apply When An Employee Is Self-isolating Because They Travelled Abroad?

No, employees are not entitled to Statutory Sick Pay if they’re self-isolating after returning from a res list country and they cannot work from home.

Test and Trace Support Payment

Employees who are on a low income and are asked to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, may be able to get a £500 Test and Trace support payment. Your employee can find out more information about this at Gov.uk.

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Coronavirus and Self-Isolation FAQs