Widely reported staff shortages caused by the so-called ‘pingdemic’ are set to continue, despite many industry groups calling on the government to change the guidance. Many employers are concerned about their workforce being told to self-isolate and the inevitable knock-on effects for the business.

What is the current guidance around self-isolation?

Although there is a small exemption for key professions (such as NHS Workers), the current rules are not expected to change until 16th August.

The guidance currently states:

  • You must self-isolate if you have been informed by NHS Test & Trace or the NHS app that you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 and who may or may not live with you.
  • It is legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive or are identified as a contact. Failure to self-isolate for the full time period can result in a fine, starting from £1,000.
  • From 16 August, if you have been fully vaccinated you will be exempt from the requirement to self-isolate if you are a contact of a positive case. You will instead be advised to take a PCR test as soon as possible.

Should all staff have the app?

The decision to download the app is personal and should not involve employers.

What should employers do if staff are told to self-isolate?

If remote working is an option, then staff should be encouraged to operate in this way – as they did during lockdown (read our guide to hybrid working). If this isn’t possible, then Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) can be used to cover periods of self-isolation, or if staff have holiday to use this could work out as more cost-effective for them.

What can employers do to mitigate the risk?

  • Despite the restrictions being lifted, as infection rates increase, it is good idea to keep the Covid-secure policies in place. This could include the use of screens or barriers, or mask wearing to protect staff and customers / visitors. The use of staggered start and finish times, and encouraging staff to continue hybrid working, can reduce the amount of contacts when in the workplace or travelling to work. The HSE has some useful guidance on keeping the workplace safe or read our return to work guide.
  • Although the government is no longer instruction people to work from home if they can, it has recommended a gradual return over the summer. Avoiding a fully-staffed workplace can again reduce the number of contacts each employee will encounter.
  • Consider encouraging staff to take lateral flow tests before attending the workplace. These can be ordered online.
  • Employers are required to inform staff that it is a legal requirement to isolate if they are told to do so by NHS Test and Trace. This will protect the worker but also colleagues and reduce the spread.
  • Plan ahead to anticipate any staff shortages and how these gaps could be filled if staff have to isolate at short notice.

Read the full government guidance on working safely which is broken down by sector.