Guidance

NHS Test and Trace in the workplace

What to do if you or someone you employ is required to self-isolate. This includes being contacted by NHS Test and Trace, self-isolation rules and financial support.

Applies to England

What has changed

This guidance has been updated to reflect changes to self-isolation requirements for contacts of people who have been identified as a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant of coronavirus (COVID-19).

These contacts must stay at home and self-isolate even if they are fully vaccinated or aged under 18 years and 6 months. The public health advice for people with symptoms of, or a positive test result for COVID-19 remains the same for everyone.

What to do if you or someone you employ is displaying COVID-19 symptoms, has tested positive for COVID-19, or is the close contact of someone who has

This includes information on the support that may be available to people who are self-isolating.

While COVID-19 cases remain high, everybody should continue to act carefully and remain cautious.

This is why we are keeping in place the following legal duties:

  • self-isolate when notified by NHS Test and Trace that you have tested positive
  • self-isolate when identified as a contact by NHS Test and Trace

We also advise individuals to :

  • get a test when you have symptoms of COVID-19 and self-isolate while waiting for the result continue to use the NHS COVID-19 app, self-isolate when advised - unless you are fully vaccinated, under 18 years and 6 months, are clinically unable to receive the vaccine or have participated in a vaccine trial
  • take a test if identified as a close contact

Businesses should:

  • support workers if they are required to self-isolate
  • support workers to follow the wider stay at home guidance to keep themselves and others safe
  • continue targeted asymptomatic testing in high-risk workplaces
  • display an NHS QR code poster and have a system for non-digital users, so that people can be notified if they may have been exposed to the virus
  • improve ventilation
  • advise those who have tested positive to identify close contacts, so they can follow the relevant public health guidance

This guidance explains how employers and businesses can maintain continuity, help to slow the spread of the virus, and save lives.

NHS Test and Trace

NHS Test and Trace:

  • provides free testing for anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 to find out if they have the virus
  • gets in touch with anyone who has had a positive test result to collect information about their close contacts, who may also be infectious
  • alerts those contacts, advises them to take a PCR test, checks whether they are legally required to self-isolate and provides them with relevant advice

You should self-isolate immediately if you show symptoms of COVID-19 and book a PCR test as soon as possible, even if you are fully vaccinated. If you are notified by NHS Test and Trace of a positive COVID-19 test result, you must complete your full self-isolation period.

You must also self-isolate if you have been informed by NHS Test and Trace that you are a contact of a person who has had a positive test result for COVID-19 unless you meet one of the following conditions:

  • you are fully vaccinated
  • you are below the age of 18 years and 6 months
  • you have taken part in, or are currently part of, an approved COVID-19 vaccine trial
  • you are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons

However, if you have been informed that you are a contact of someone who has been identified as a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, these conditions do not apply, and you must stay at home and self-isolate.

Fully vaccinated means that you have been vaccinated with a Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved COVID-19 vaccine in the UK, and at least 14 days have passed since you received the recommended doses of that vaccine.

See further information on how NHS Test and Trace works.

NHS COVID-19 app

The NHS COVID-19 app is an important part of NHS Test and Trace. App users can check symptoms, order a PCR test, receive results and advice, and check into venues. The app sends anonymous contact alerts if the user has been in close contact with another app user who has tested positive for COVID-19.

If you receive a contact alert via the app, you should self-isolate and get a PCR test. This is unless you are fully vaccinated, under 18 years and 6 months, clinically unable to receive the vaccine, or have participated in a vaccine trial. It is crucial to follow the advice received via the app to help stop COVID-19 transmission and keep people safe.

If you test positive, you must complete your full self-isolation period.

Click below to:

See further information on the NHS COVID-19 app.

Collecting contact details for NHS Test and Trace

It is no longer a legal requirement for venues to request that individuals ‘check in’, though this is still encouraged to help stop the spread of COVID- 19. See guidance on maintaining records of staff, customers and visitors to support NHS Test and Trace.

You should ask every customer or visitor (over the age of 16) to ‘check in’ by either:

  • scanning the NHS QR code poster via their NHS COVID-19 app
  • providing their name and telephone number (this can be done in advance, for example, via a pre-booking system) – you should also note the date of entry to the venue

You should also:

  • keep a record of all staff working on your premises, their shift times and dates, and their contact details
  • keep these records of customers, visitors and staff for 21 days and provide this information to NHS Test and Trace, if requested
  • display an NHS QR code poster so that customers and visitors can ‘check in’ using the NHS COVID-19 app (as an alternative to providing their contact details)
  • adhere to data protection legislation

If there are multiple new cases of COVID-19 linked to a venue, NHS Test and Trace may send an alert to people who checked into the venue on the same day with advice to book a test. Attendees will not have to self-isolate unless they test positive for COVID-19. If an individual checked in by scanning the NHS QR code poster with their NHS COVID-19 app, they will receive an app notification. An individual who checked in by providing their contact details will be sent a text message.

Guidance for employers

It is critical that employers take steps to keep workers and visitors safe. By following the working safely guidance and keeping your workplace clean guidance, employers can reduce the risk of co-workers contracting COVID-19.

Employers should include a health and safety risk assessment that includes the risk from COVID-19.

If any of your workers display symptoms of COVID-19 or test positive

If any workers display symptoms of COVID-19, they should self-isolate and follow the guidance to get a test.

Employers should call the Self-Isolation Service Hub on: 020 3743 6715 as soon as they are made aware that any of their workers have tested positive.

Schools are not advised to use the Service Hub and should refer to separate guidance for schools.

Employers should provide the 8-digit NHS Test and Trace Account ID (sometimes referred to as a CTAS number) of the person who tested positive, alongside the names of co-workers identified as close contacts. This should include any co-worker who has been in close contact with the worker who has tested positive, regardless of their vaccination status, age or any other factor which may exempt them from self-isolation.

This will ensure that all workplace contacts are registered with NHS Test and Trace and can be informed that they are a close contact, advised to take a PCR test and receive the necessary public health advice – including whether they need to self-isolate. It also helps those required to self-isolate to access support.

In the event of an outbreak in the workplace, employers should follow their established outbreak processes and seek advice from their local health protection team as appropriate. Further information on the thresholds for notifying outbreaks and who to contact is available from your local authority.

Close contacts

A close contact is a person who has been close to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. You can be a contact anytime from 2 days before the person who tested positive developed their symptoms, or before the date of their test if they did not have symptoms, and up to 10 days after. This is when the virus can be passed to others.

A workplace risk assessment may be undertaken to determine this, but a contact can be anyone who:

  • lives in the same household as another person who has COVID-19 symptoms or has tested positive for COVID-19
  • has had any of the following types of contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19:
    • face-to-face contact including being coughed on or having a face-to-face conversation within one metre
    • been within one metre for one minute or longer without face-to-face contact
    • been within 2 metres of someone for more than 15 minutes (either as a one-off contact, or added up together over one day)

A person may also be a close contact if they have travelled in the same vehicle or plane as someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

See guidance for non-household contacts.

NHS Test and Trace will not usually consider someone to be a contact if their interaction with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 took place through a Perspex (or equivalent) screen – as long as there has been no other contact such as those in the list above.

The wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) will not be considered as a mitigation when assessing whether a recent contact is likely to have transmitted the virus. Only full medical-grade PPE worn in health and care settings will be considered.

If a person is notified by NHS Test and Trace that they are a close contact, they must self-isolate unless they are exempt.

Exemptions do not apply to contacts of a confirmed or suspected case of the Omicron variant.

Ensuring your workers self-isolate where necessary

Requirement to self-isolate

If one of your workers is told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace and is due to work somewhere other than their place of self-isolation, they have a legal duty to inform you as soon as possible before they are next due to work. Failure to do so could result in the worker being issued with a fixed penalty notice of £50.

It is an offence for you (as an employer) to allow a worker to attend the workplace or to work anywhere other than the place they are self-isolating, if you are aware that the worker is legally required to self-isolate. Your firm may be issued with a fixed penalty notice, starting from £1,000 if you do not comply.

These rules apply when NHS Test and Trace notifies a worker that they have either:

  • tested positive for COVID-19
  • been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 (unless they are exempt from self-isolation) as they may be infectious and could spread the virus

If a worker has received a notification from the NHS COVID-19 app advising them to self-isolate, they are not legally required to inform their employer. If they do, employers are strongly encouraged to support staff to self-isolate.

This NHS guidance explains how long an individual must self-isolate for.

Exemptions from self-isolation

Workers do not need to inform you if they are a contact of a positive case but exempt from self-isolation. Employers are not expected to check whether an individual is exempt from self-isolation.

Individuals identified as contacts are not required to self-isolate if any of the following apply:

  • they are fully vaccinated
  • they are below the age of 18 years and 6 months
  • they have taken part in or are currently part of an approved COVID-19 vaccine trial
  • they are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons

However, if an individual has been informed they are a contact of someone who has been identified as a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, these conditions do not apply, and they must stay at home and self-isolate.

Contacts who are exempt from self-isolation will still be advised to take a PCR test.

They will also be advised to consider the following precautions:

  • limit close contact with people outside their household, especially in crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces. Consider taking an LFD test beforehand if they do need to be in close contact with others
  • wear a face covering in enclosed spaces and where they are unable to maintain social distancing
  • limit contact with anyone who has an underlying health condition that puts them at higher risk of severe illness if infected with COVID-19. Consider taking an LFD test beforehand if you do need to meet with them

This means that many workers who are exempt from self-isolation will be able to go to work, but this could depend on the circumstances of the individual employer and workplace. In certain workplaces, for example, health and social care settings, employers may ask workers to take additional precautions.

Employers should also continue to follow wider government guidance.

If a worker is legally required to self-isolate and cannot work from home

If a worker is legally required to self-isolate and cannot work from home, employers:

  • should pay contractual sick pay, where appropriate
  • must ensure they receive Statutory Sick Pay as a minimum, provided they meet the eligibility criteria, see Statutory Sick Pay (SSP): employer guide
  • should make workers aware of the support available to help them to self-isolate

Employees that are legally required to self-isolate because of COVID-19 are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay for every day of work missed for their self-isolation period, provided they meet the eligibility criteria.

Find out more about employment rights if someone needs to self-isolate or cannot attend work due to COVID-19.

If you are self-employed, you must continue to work from home if you can. If you cannot, you should follow the sector-specific advice to find out whether you are eligible to apply for support.

Daily contact testing

Daily contact testing is designed to offer an alternative to self-isolation for contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases who are not otherwise exempt.

It is only available to workplaces that have been approved to take part in the workplace daily contact testing scheme.

Staff working in these workplaces can choose to take part in daily contact testing, rather than self-isolate, where they are not exempt from the duty to self-isolate and have been identified as a close contact of someone outside their household who has tested positive for COVID-19.

They cannot take part in daily contact testing if they are the contact of someone who is a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Daily contact testing involves taking a lateral flow test each day for 7 days at an approved testing site within the workplace or, for days on which they do not get tested at an approved testing site, self-isolating at home.

Where the daily test result is negative, staff can attend work, buy food if no one else can do it for them, exercise in an outdoor space, and respond to medical emergencies over the next 24 hours. If the test is positive or they develop symptoms, they should self-isolate immediately and arrange a PCR test. Staff are asked to follow a range of other measures to minimise the risk of onward transmission, such as avoiding poorly ventilated public places.

Employers taking part in the workplace daily contact testing scheme receive training to ensure they are able to provide daily contact testing safely and effectively.

Guidance for workers

If your test is positive or you are displaying symptoms of COVID-19

If you develop symptoms, you should self-isolate and get a free PCR test as soon as your symptoms start.

If you are notified of a positive test result by NHS Test and Trace, you are legally required to self-isolate, regardless of your vaccination status for either:

  • 10 full days from the day after your symptoms started, or
  • 10 full days after the day of the positive test if you did not have symptoms

You will be asked by NHS Test and Trace to provide details of anyone who you have been in close contact with. This will not automatically be all of your co-workers, but those who are assessed as meeting the definition of a close contact. Passing on details of your close contacts allows them to be traced so they can get advice on the steps they should take to protect their family, friends and local community.

NHS Test and Trace will notify those you had close contact with, advise them to take a PCR test and, if they are not exempt, will instruct them to self-isolate. When NHS Test and Trace notifies contacts, it does not tell them the identity of the person who has tested positive.

If you are an NHS COVID-19 app user, you are encouraged to share your positive COVID-19 test result anonymously with other app users so that people you have been in close contact with recently will be alerted.

If you are identified as a close contact

If you are notified that you have been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 by NHS Test and Trace and you are not otherwise exempt from self-isolation, then you are legally required to self-isolate until 10 days after the most recent day on which you were exposed to the positive case. If you are required to self-isolate and are due to work outside of the place where you are isolating, you must inform your employer. Failure to do so could result in you being issued a fixed penalty notice for £50.

The legal requirement to self-isolate does not apply if you have received a notification from the NHS COVID-19 app, but you are encouraged to do so anyway.

If you are notified that you are a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, you do not need to self-isolate if any of the following apply:

  • you are fully vaccinated
  • you are below the age of 18 years and 6 months
  • you have taken part in or are currently part of an approved COVID-19 vaccine trial
  • you are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons

However, if you live in the same household as someone who has been identified as a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, these conditions do not apply, and you must stay at home and self-isolate.

If you are identified as a close contact by NHS Test and Trace, you should arrange to have a PCR test – regardless of whether or not you have symptoms. This is because you are at a higher risk of being infected. You should arrange this test as soon as possible after being notified, so that NHS Test and Trace can identify the people that you have been in contact with if your test result is positive.

If you have previously received a positive COVID-19 PCR test result you are not usually advised to be re-tested within 90 days of this result. However, you should have a PCR test within 90 days of a previous positive PCR test if:

  • you develop any new symptoms of COVID-19,
  • you are a close contact of someone who has been identified as a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 – and/or
  • you are required to take a PCR test upon entry into the UK

If you are tested within 90 days of a positive PCR test result for any of these 3 reasons, and the PCR test result is positive, you must stay at home, self-isolate and follow the stay at home guidance.

If you were told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, a negative test result does not mean that you can stop self-isolating as you may still be in the incubation period (the time between exposure to the virus and symptom onset), and you could go on to develop COVID-19 in the following days.

If you are exempt from the legal duty to self-isolate, you should:

  • limit close contact with other people outside your household, especially in crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces. Consider taking an LFD test beforehand if you do need to be in close contact with others
  • wear a face covering in enclosed spaces and where you are unable to maintain social distancing
  • limit contact with anyone who has an underlying health condition that puts them at higher risk of severe illness if infected with COVID-19 – consider taking an LFD test beforehand if you do need to meet with them

This means that if you are exempt from self-isolation you will be able to continue to go to work, but this will depend on your workplace. In certain workplaces, for example health and social care settings, your employer may require you to take additional precautions.

However, if an individual has been informed they are a contact of someone who has been identified as a suspected or confirmed case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, these conditions will not apply, and workers must stay at home and self-isolate.

If you are told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace

If you are told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace and you are due to work somewhere other than where you are self-isolating, you have a legal duty to inform your employer as soon as possible. Failure to do so could result in you being issues with a fixed penalty notice for £50.

If you need to provide evidence to your employer of a positive test result, or the fact that you have been in close contact with a positive case and are required to self-isolate, you can request an isolation note from the NHS.

Find out more about employment rights if you need to self-isolate or cannot attend work due to COVID-19.

If you are self-employed, you must continue to work from home if you can. If you cannot, you should follow the sector-specific advice to find out whether you are eligible to apply for support.

Using the NHS COVID-19 app as a worker

Once you have downloaded the app, it should be left on as much as possible to notify you if you have been exposed to the virus. If contact tracing is turned off then the app will not work as intended and you will not be notified if another app user, who you have been in close contact with, later tests positive for COVID-19.

However, there are some specific workplace scenarios when you are advised to pause the contact tracing feature. These are:

  • when you are working behind a fixed transparent screen and are fully protected from other people
  • if you store your phone in a locker or communal area, for example while working
  • if you are a healthcare worker in health and social care and are wearing medical grade PPE, such as a surgical mask
  • if you are a healthcare worker working in a healthcare building, such as a hospital or GP surgery

Contact tracing can be paused within the app by selecting ‘manage contact tracing’ on the home screen. It’s important you turn the contact tracing toggle back on as soon as you are not in one of the above scenarios, for example, when you retrieve your phone from your locker. To help you, you will be given the option to pause the feature for different time periods – after which you will receive a reminder to turn the contact tracing feature back on.

If the NHS COVID-19 app identifies that you have been in close contact with a confirmed case, it will ask questions to determine whether you are exempt from the legal duty to self-isolate. If so, you will be advised to get tested but not to self-isolate. If you are not exempt, it will advise you to self-isolate and get a test. There is no legal requirement to tell your employer about an app alert.

Support for people self-isolating

Statutory Sick Pay

If it is not possible for you to work, you may receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), provided you meet the eligibility criteria.

Some workers who are unable to work may have a contract which states they are entitled to more than the statutory minimum, or their employer may offer this on a discretionary basis. This is known as ‘contractual’ or ‘occupational’ sick pay.

If you are not eligible for SSP, you may be able to claim for other welfare support, such as Universal Credit or New Style Employment and Support Allowance.

Further guidance is available on what to do if you are employed and cannot work.

Test and Trace Support Payment scheme

If you are told to stay at home and self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace or the NHS COVID-19 app, you may be eligible for a payment of £500 from your local authority through the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme. The scheme is also open to parents and guardians who have not been told to self-isolate, but who need to take time off work to care for a child who is required to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace.

More information on the scheme and eligibility criteria.

You will need an NHS Test and Trace Account ID to apply.

If you have not tested positive but you are identified as a close contact, your employer should call the Self-Isolation Service Hub on:
020 3743 6715 to give them your contact details. You will then be sent your NHS Test and Trace ID.

Your employer will need to provide the NHS Test and Trace Account ID of the person who tested positive and your name and contact details as a close contact. You will not be able to claim for the Test and Trace Support Payment scheme if you have not been registered with the Self-Isolation Service Hub.

Other support for people self-isolating

If you are required to self-isolate, you may also be able to get non-financial support such as help delivering food or with other practical tasks.

Published 27 May 2020
Last updated 1 December 2021 + show all updates
  1. Updated with guidance on Omicron variant.

  2. Updated to reflect changes to self-isolation policy from 16 August.

  3. Updated to reflect the introduction of daily contact testing for workplaces.

  4. Updated to include the contact for the Cabinet Office Funeral Sector.

  5. Under the Guidance for employers heading the critical services guidance section was updated to include further public health information. Amendment to clarify that the prison sector may also have workers who fall within scope of the scheme.

  6. Under 'Test and Trace Support Payment Scheme', updated guidance: If you have not tested positive but you are identified as a close contact, your employer should call the Self-Isolation Service Hub on 020 3743 6715 to give them your contact details. You will then be sent your NHS Test and Trace ID.

  7. Updated to include information about self-isolation for workers in critical services.

  8. Updated to add a call-out about the new COVID-19 variant of concern.

  9. Updated to reflect the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

  10. Removed action cards section.

  11. Updated rules for businesses reopening, and for entering a venue.

  12. Updated to reflect the change in rules for when a group enters a venue. From 29 March 2021, every customer or visitor should be asked to scan the NHS QR code or provide their name and contact details, not just a lead member.

  13. Updated section regarding action cards.

  14. Updated section on when to contact your local health protection team.

  15. Updated to reflect the change from tiers to national lockdown and to update the definition of a close contact.

  16. Updated to reflect the change in the self-isolation period from 14 to 10 days.

  17. Updated to reflect the end of the national restrictions on 2 December 2020 and the reintroduction of the tiered system.

  18. Updated to show that everyone should work from home where possible during the increased national restrictions from 5 November 2020.

  19. Updated to reflect employers' legal duties around staff who are self-isolating.

  20. Corrected an error implying that the NHS COVID-19 app is mandatory, which it isn’t.

  21. Updated to reflect the launch of the COVID-19 app and how it should be used in the workplace. Corrected the period that people are infectious to say: from 2 days before the person was symptomatic up to 10 days from onset of symptoms.

  22. Updated to reflect the new legal requirements for designated venues to collect contact details and display official NHS QR code posters.

  23. The guidance has been redrafted for clarity. In addition, there is a new section on collecting customer and visitor data for NHS Test and Trace. The following information has been added to the section headed ‘If a worker develops symptoms and orders a test’: Where an interaction between 2 people has taken place through a Perspex (or equivalent) screen, this would not be considered sufficient contact. Contact tracers will not consider the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) as a mitigation when assessing whether a recent contact is likely to have risked transmitting the virus.

  24. Updated the guidance for employers about multiple coronavirus outbreaks in the workplace.

  25. First published.