A temporary exemption from self-isolation for critical workers?
The Government has announced that fully vaccinated critical workers will be able to leave self-isolation to attend work in exceptional circumstances. The NHS Test and Trace in the workplace guidance, applicable in England, has been updated to reflect the change. Separate arrangements are in place for frontline health and care staff.
The updated guidance states that in a small number of situations where the self-isolation of close contacts would result in serious disruption to critical services, a limited number of named workers may be able to leave self-isolation under specific controls for the purposes of undertaking critical work only.
Key points include:
- The policy only applies to workers if the employer has received a letter from a Government department on which the worker’s name is listed.
- The worker will only be able to leave self-isolation to undertake critical work. In all other cases, they should continue to self-isolate.
- The policy applies to named workers in specifically approved workplaces who are fully vaccinated (14 days post-final dose) and who have been identified as close contacts.
- Permission to attend work is contingent on certain controls, agreed by the Department of Health and Social Care, to mitigate the risk of increased infection. According to the Government announcement, workers will need to take a PCR test as soon as possible followed by daily lateral flow tests before attending work each day.
The test to be applied is whether the worker works in critical elements on national infrastructure and whether their absence would be likely to lead to the loss or compromise of this infrastructure resulting in one or both of:
- Major detrimental impact on the availability, integrity or delivery of essential services
- Significant impact on national security, national defence or the functioning of the state.
Where employers believe that self-isolation of key workers as contacts would result in serious disruption to critical services, they should contact the relevant Government department set out in the guidance. A list of sectors covered is set out in the guidance, and includes digital infrastructure, food production and supply and essential transport.
As noted in the guidance, this policy is not a blanket exemption for all employees in a sector. Unless employers have a letter from a Government department on which the workers are specifically named, the policy does not apply and workers should self-isolate as directed. In addition, the policy only applies to asymptomatic contacts. Workers who test positive or develop symptoms are not eligible and should continue to self-isolate.
The process only applies until 16 August 2021, when fully vaccinated close contacts will be exempt from self-isolation.
NHS Test and Trace workplace guidance
28 July 2021
If you would like to receive monthly employment law updates and news of our events, sign up for our email alerts.
©2021 SCRASE LAW LTD. THIS POST IS FOR GENERAL INFORMATION ONLY AND IS NOT ADVICE. YOU ARE RECOMMENDED TO SEEK COMPETENT PROFESSIONAL ADVICE BEFORE TAKING ANY ACTION ON THE BASIS OF THIS POST