Updated NHS Test and Trace guidance has been produced by the government. 

In brief the test and trace service provides testing for those with symptoms of coronavirus, contacts those with a positive result to share information about recent close contacts, and alerts those contacts as necessary and informs them of the need to self-isolate in order to stop the virus's spread.  Testing is free to those with symptoms.

Employers are expected to follow general safe working and sector specific guidance to reduce the risks of "close contact" taking place between employees which would require self-isolation following a positive diagnosis. Employers are expected to observe and support self-isolation rules with regard to their employees.  Control measures include reviewing risk assessments and consulting the workforce – further details can be found in our notes outlining the actions required in various key sectors under the health and safety tab of our COVID-19 legal hub.

What to do if an employee develops symptoms

Employees with symptoms should request a free test as soon as they are symptomatic.  They will then be contacted by the Test and Trace service to provide details of those they have recently been in close contact with.  Close contact means a person who, in the period from 2 days pre-symptoms to 7 days post-symptoms, has:-

  • spent significant time in the same household
  • been a sexual partner
  • had face-to-face contact (within one metre), including:
    • being coughed on
    • having skin-to-skin physical contact, or
    • contact within one metre for one minute
  • been within 2 metres of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes
  • travelled in a small vehicle, or in a large vehicle or plane

Where the contact was via a screen or other physical barrier this is not close contact however PPE will not be considered as a mitigation of close contact unless it is full medical-grade PPE in health and care settings (but the use of such PPE outside the NHS and social care settings is discouraged so as not to disrupt critical supplies).  

Tracing – request for test

Those who have requested a test will be asked to contact their close contacts.  The symptomatic person will also be asked to consider asking their employer to alert co-employees.  Close contacts will not have to fully self-isolate unless told to but must avoid contact with those at increased risk from Coronavirus, take extra care practising social distancing and good hygiene nad watch out for Coronavirus symptoms and self-isolate if they develop symptoms.  If employers inform staff about positive tests they should not identify the individual, those employees at risk from close contact will be contacted by the Test and Trace service.  

Tracing - If the test is positive

Test and Trace will notify close contacts and instruct them to self isolate for up to 14 days from the last contact, without identifying the symptomatic person following a positive diagnosis.

Local Public Health Experts will take over contact tracing where a positive test relates to a health or care setting, prison or other secure establishment, a school for children with special needs, or any setting where there is a risk of a local outbreak.

Self isolation

Employers should support self-isolation wherever an employee is awaiting a test result, has tested positive, is a member of the same household as someone who has symptoms or has tested positive, or has been in close recent contact with someone who has tested positive and received a notification to self-isolate from Test and Trace.  Again the identity of workers testing positive should not be shared.  Employees asked to self-isolate should request an isolation note and this evidence should be shared with employers.  

Employees who have been asked to self-isolate should not be asked to come back to work and should be told to stay home, employes should continue to communicate with and support them, and allow them to work from home if they remain well.  If they cannot work from home ensure they receive SSP (if eligible) and consider allowing them to use paid leave if preferable.  Employees who develop symptoms during self-isolation must request a test, a negative test does not mean that an employee can cease to self-isolate.

Multiple outbreaks in the workplace

If there is more than one case of COVID-19 associated with a workplace, employers should contact their local health protection team to report the suspected outbreak.  The heath protection team will:

  • undertake a risk assessment
  • provide public health advice
  • where necessary, establish a multi-agency incident management team to manage the outbreak
Collecting customer and visitor data 

Businesses should (in the absence of a pre-existing system) introduce a new system to assist test and trace by keeping a temporary record of customers and visitors for 21 days and assisting Test and Trace with requests for data if needed.  Care should be taken to ensure that any data collected and retained is done so in a way which is fully compliant with data protection laws. See our COVID guidance note.

This note represents the law as at 22 July 2020.

Key Contacts

Erin Shoesmith

Erin Shoesmith

Partner, Health & Safety
United Kingdom

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Adrian Mansbridge

Adrian Mansbridge

Partner, Global Investigations
Leeds, UK

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