The government encourages employers to sign up for the testing program. Employers can now test their employees at work, even if they don’t have symptoms of COVID-19. Employers are not required to have a workplace testing program, but many employers want to incentivize staff to return to work. The primary source for current and official information about the workplace testing initiative is the government’s guidance page. This guidance note gives an overview of legal and practical issues employers should consider. It also links to more detailed guidance on workplace testing.
Who is eligible to take free tests?
Employers with 10 or more employees in England were eligible to register with the Department of Health and Social Care prior to 12 April 2021 to receive free lateral flow testing kits. Registering in time allows you to order test kits for free. These allow employees to test up to two times per week until the 19th of July 2021. Employers can also register with a third-party provider to receive lateral flow tests. Employers should set up testing on the jobsite unless logistical difficulties prevent them from doing so. In that case, employees can do it at home.
Types of tests
Two main COVID test types are widely used at the moment:
(a) A polymerase chain reaction is (PCR) that tests for genetic material (RNA). Send the sample to a laboratory for processing.
(b) The lateral flow device, (LFD), tests for the detection of antigens (proteins produced by the virus). The test gives rapid results within 30 minutes.
Because they are more efficient, faster, and cheaper, the government envisions that lateral flow tests will be more common in workplace testing programs.
Whether workplace testing is the right choice for your company
Employer testing is not mandatory at the moment. The government’s updated workplace safety guidelines does not include testing among the steps employers should take. Employers can decide if testing is necessary.
The government recommends that employers in the private sector offer employees (where they are on-site) at least two lateral flow tests per week to help detect staff who may have the virus. Employees may be more open to testing as they discuss their employer’s plans for returning to work. These tests are not intended for employees working remotely. Anyone in England can access free lateral flow testing at home, even if they are not offered by their employer. However, the guidelines for testing in the devolved countries vary.
Implementing a workplace testing program
Employers have successfully implemented voluntary workplace testing programs. The government has recommended that workplace testing be introduced on a voluntary basis. These schemes can be achieved by a clear workplace testing policy. This plan also includes a communication plan. It positions workplace testing as an additional safety and health measure that is compatible with other COVID security measures. Discuss your plans with employees. Explain why you want employees to test, and the benefits. Listen to what they have to say. To avoid misinterpretation, remind employees of the COVID Testing Jobs secure guidelines that remain in effect.
The government recommends that employers discuss the following issues with their employees.
- Why you’re setting up a testing program
- Whether the program is mandatory or voluntary
What are the consequences for staff who refuse to participate in the testing program?
What are the next steps for staff once they have received the result? This includes the obligation to notify their employer that they have a duty of self-isolation if the worker is required to work or undertake work activities during the isolation period. Failure to do so could result in a PS50 penalty.
- Staff can get advice about their rights during the process
- If staff have concerns, they will be able to discuss data collection with them.
Can I make mandatory testing?
Employers may be interested in mandatory testing. Employers who wish to make workplace testing mandatory for their employees may not have a statutory obligation. They will need to find other options. While mandatory testing isn’t as controversial as the COVID vaccine, lateral flow testing involves a nose and throat swab. The test is considered to be invasive and could prove unpleasant.
What do I have to pay my employee for the time they spend on a test?
Employers that ask employees to take part in workplace testing will likely need to pay them for the time they spend doing this. This is because the testing can continue all day. A well-run testing centre will allow employees to only need to leave their workplaces for a brief time. Employers who do not pay employees while they are taking the test may have more employees refuse to take it.
Can employees be asked to test at home instead of setting up a testing centre?
Employees must take responsibility for the tests and report the results to the employer if they are asked to take them at home. Employers have the benefit of being able to monitor who is being tested at an onsite testing center. However, results are sent to the employee and not to the employer unless consented to by the employer. If employees test positive, they must inform their employer.