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The second wave is here and the chances of an outbreak of coronavirus at your workplace is more likely. But what steps do you need to take if one of your employees tests positive? And what if they haven’t had a test but think they might have caught the virus? These are confusing times, but to make things easier, we have the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions by employers.

What should I do if an employee tests positive for Covid whilst at work?

Hopefully, you will have already taken the recommended steps to create a covid-secure workplace, so there shouldn’t be any need to immediately send everyone home. The person who has received the test results should be sent home without delay, although they should not be encouraged to use public transport. If the individual has had ‘close contact’ with other employees, those people should be sent home to quarantine for fourteen days. This period of self-isolation must be taken even if they have had a negative COVID-19 test in the meantime.

Warning: You could be fined up to £10,000 if you knowingly ask or encourage an employee who needs to self-isolate to come to the workplace.

What should I do if my employee is infected with the coronavirus, is ill and is therefore unable to work?

  If you work in an office setting, and one person tests positive, you don’t need to report it to the authorities. However, if multiple employees test positive, this is classed as an outbreak and you do need to report it to the local health protection team People with COVID-19, the disease that causes the new coronavirus, often have a fever (> 38 degrees) and respiratory symptoms such as coughing, a runny nose, sneezing or shortness of breath. Sometimes hospital treatment is required. This treatment often consists of temporarily supporting breathing by administering oxygen. The most intensive way of administering oxygen is done in intensive care (IC), where ventilation equipment carefully supports and replenishes breathing. The elderly and people with fragile health are, particularly at risk.

If your employee is infected with coronavirus and has complaints that mean that they are unable to do their job, you must report your employee sick to the local health protection team. They will advise you about the options for returning to work.

The rules differ for certain sectors. If your place of work is a prison, a childcare setting or a nursing home, every single case of COVID-19 must be reported to the local health protection team without delay.

My employee is infected with COVID-19, but has no or mild complaints. Can they work from home?

  Most people have mild complaints from COVID-19. They can definitely catch up at home. These people often recover well and completely, usually within two weeks. If COVID-19 has been diagnosed, but your employee is not ill or only has mild complaints, then they must be placed in so-called home isolation. In that case, the family members must also stay at home. Your employee may only go outside again when he or she has had no complaints for about 24 hours. That means no temperature, no colds and no coughing.

If working from home isn’t an option for your employee, you should consult with your employee about possible solutions or alternatives. You must ensure they receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they meet the eligibility criteria. You may also give them the option of using any annual leave days if they prefer. Of course, you should also pay them any sick pay they’re entitled to while self-isolating, and take steps to support their well-being and mental health. This is also a good time to consider making workplace adjustments to prevent future transmission.

My employee has a cold, but is not sure whether they have been infected with COVID-19 – what should I do?

  Anyone with symptoms can request a test by visiting the website and completing the online form or by following the instructions on the NHS Test and Trace app. They can arrange to either have a test sent to their home address or visit a nearby test centre, although depending on your location these can sometimes be some distance away. They should self-isolate until they have received a negative result. If the result is negative, your employee will be notified by email. In case of a positive test result, Test and Trace service will contact you by telephone and you will receive a written confirmation. Your employee goes into isolation.

After ordering the test, the NHS Test and Trace service will ask them to supply details of anyone with whom they have been in close recent contact. This will not necessarily be all their fellow co-workers, but anyone who fulfils the meaning of close contact.

You may feel the need to keep your staff informed about COVID-19 cases. However, it is not advisable to name the individual concerned. If a colleague is believed to be at risk because they have been in close contact with the COVID-infected, then the NHS Test and Trace service will notify them to self-isolate. As an employer, it is your responsibility to make sure that your workplace is as safe as possible by frequent cleaning and by supporting appropriate hygiene measures.