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

While cases are high and rising, everybody needs to continue to act carefully and remain cautious. This is why we are keeping in place key protections:

  • testing when you have symptoms and targeted asymptomatic testing in education, high-risk workplaces and to help people manage their personal risk
  • self-isolating when symptomatic or having tested positive
  • self-isolating when identified as a contact by NHS Test and Trace or the NHS COVID-19 app unless you are fully vaccinated or under 18 and 6 months
  • border quarantine: for all arriving from red list countries and for those people who do not meet the country-specific vaccination or age exemptions arriving from amber list countries
  • cautious guidance for individuals, businesses and the vulnerable, including:
    • encouraging people to continue to use the NHS COVID-19 app
    • while the government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can, the government would expect and recommend a gradual return over the summer
    • the government expects and recommends that people wear face coverings in crowded areas such as public transport
    • being outside or letting fresh air in
    • minimising the number, proximity and duration of social contacts

This guidance explains how employers and businesses can maintain business 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 close contacts

  • alerts those contacts, advises them to take a PCR test and instructs them to self-isolate, and from 16 August will also check which contacts are exempt from self-isolation

You should self-isolate immediately if you show any 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.

Your self-isolation period starts immediately from when your symptoms started, or, if you do not have any symptoms, from when your PCR test or assisted lateral flow test was taken. Your self-isolation period includes the day your symptoms started (or the day your PCR test or assisted lateral flow test was taken if you do not have symptoms), and the next 10 full days.

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 are participating in an approved daily contact testing scheme or, from 16 August, if you are exempt as outlined below. By self-isolating, you are protecting your family, friends and local community, and helping to stop the spread of the virus.

From 16 August you will not need to self-isolate if you are notified you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19 and 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   

Fully vaccinated means that you have been vaccinated with an 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 in to venues. The app sends anonymous contact alerts if the user has been in close contact, for example within 2 metres for over 15 minutes with another app user who has tested positive for COVID-19.               

From 16 August, if you receive a contact alert via the app you  and you are under 18 and 6 months, fully vaccinated or otherwise exempt, you will be advised to take a PCR test, but not to self-isolate. If you are not under 18 and 6 months, fully vaccinated or otherwise exempt and you receive a contact tracing alert via the app you should self-isolate and get a test. If you test positive you will still need to self-isolate. It is crucial to follow the app’s advice to help break chains of transmission and keep people safe.

See further information on the NHS COVID-19 app.

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 can now plan a return to work places, which should include a health and safety risk assessment that includes the risk from COVID-19.

Ensuring your workers self-isolate where necessary

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 a £50 fine. 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. Workers also do not need to inform employers if they have received a contact notification and advice from the NHS COVID-19 app.

Those contacts who are exempt from self-isolation from 16 August will still be advised to take a PCR test, but will not be required to self-isolate while they wait for the result. They will also be advised to consider the following precautions until 10 days after their most recent contact with the positive case:

  • limiting close contact with people outside their household, especially in enclosed spaces
  • wearing a face covering in enclosed spaces and where they are unable to maintain social distancing
  • limiting contact with anyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable
  • taking part in regular lateral flow testing

It is an offence for you (as an employer) to allow a worker to attend the workplace if you are aware that the worker is legally required to self-isolate because they have been notified by NHS Test and Trace that they have either:

  • tested positive for COVID-19
  • been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and they are not exempt from self-isolation

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

If you know that a worker is required to self-isolate, you must not allow them to come into work or work anywhere other than where they are self-isolating (usually, their home) for their full self-isolation period, unless they are participating in an approved daily contact testing scheme. Failure to do so could result in your firm facing a fine, starting from £1,000.    

If a worker has received a notification from the NHS COVID-19 app that they have been a contact of a confirmed case, they will still be told to self-isolate unless they are under 18 years and 6 months or fully vaccinated, as they may be infectious and could spread the virus. There is no legal obligation for them to inform their employers of an app alert but if they do employers should be strongly encouraged to support employees to self-isolate.

Before 16 August, in certain limited circumstances fully vaccinated employees identified as contacts may be able to leave self-isolation to undertake critical work. Further detail is set out below.

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, and up to 10 days after. This is when the virus can be passed to others.

A 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
  • anyone who 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 a case.

See guidance for non-household contacts.

The NHS COVID-19 app is anonymous and ‘close contact’ is based on an algorithm, but it generally means you have been within 2 metres of someone with COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more. See information on how the NHS COVID-19 app determines who should receive a contact tracing alert.

NHS Test and Trace will not usually consider someone to be a contact if their interaction with a positive case 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 any of your workers test positive

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.

Employers will need to 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 will ensure that all workplace contacts are registered with NHS Test and Trace and can receive the necessary public health advice, including the support available to help people to self-isolate where required.

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.

If workers cannot work from home

If a worker cannot work from home, you:

  • may consider giving them the option to use their paid leave days
  • should pay contractual sick pay, where appropriate
  • must ensure they receive Statutory Sick Pay as a minimum, provided they meet the eligibility criteria
  • should make workers aware of the support available to help them to self-isolate

Employees in self-isolation are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay for every day of work missed for their self-isolation period, provided they meet the eligibility criteria.

Small and medium employers (with fewer than 250 employees) may be able to reclaim their costs for Statutory Sick Pay. NHS Test and Trace will provide evidence to your employee that they have been told to self-isolate, and how long for. You may ask your employee to follow the instructions on getting an isolation note if you require further evidence.

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

Collecting contact details for NHS Test and Trace and NHS QR code check-in

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

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 in to 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 to the venue by scanning the NHS QR code poster with their NHS COVID-19 app, they will receive a notification sent within the app. An individual who checked in by providing their contact details will be sent a text message. The message will not name the venue and will not ask people to self-isolate but it will ask them to get a test.

Daily contact testing

Daily contact testing is designed to offer an alternative to self-isolation for contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

An independent study has shown that daily contact testing in schools, using on-site testing, was as effective as self-isolation in limiting onward transmission. Based on the results of this study, the government is rolling out the workplace daily contact testing scheme in England, using a similar model of on-site testing.

The initial roll-out covers workplaces in sectors that provide essential services, including food distribution and production, emergency services, transport networks, defence, prisons, waste collection and energy.

Daily contact testing 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 have been identified as the close contact of someone outside their household who has tested positive for COVID-19 and are not exempt from self-isolation. This 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. They must self-isolate until they take their first lateral flow test, except that they can travel to work to take that test.

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 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.

Those sites approved for workplace daily contact testing will be able to continue providing this service after 16 August for contacts who are not exempt from self-isolation. The government will keep under review the duration of the scheme.

A study is underway to assess the public health impact of daily contact testing for the general public using lateral flow tests taken at home. Where a member of the public has taken up an offer from NHS Test and Trace to participate in this study, they are exempt from the legal duty to self-isolate. The government will decide in light of the results of this study whether to introduce daily contact testing using home tests more widely.

Guidance for workers

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

If the test is positive

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 days from the day after your symptoms started
  • 10 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 identified as a close contact

If you are notified that you have been identified as a close contact of a positive case and you are not exempt, then you are legally required to self-isolate unless you are taking part in an approved daily contact testing scheme. From 16 August you will not be required to self-isolate if you are notified you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19 and 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  

If you are exempt, you will usually be able to continue to go to work as normal. However in certain workplaces, such as in health and social care, you may be asked to take additional precautions.

If none of the above apply you must self-isolate until 10 days after the most recent day on which you were exposed to the positive case.

If you are an NHS COVID-19 app user, please 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 told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace you must stay at home

If you are told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace and are due to work somewhere other than your place of self-isolation, you have a legal duty to inform your employer as soon as possible before you are next due to work. Failure to do so could result in a £50 fine. If the NHS COVID-19 app identifies that you have been in close contact with a confirmed case, it will ask if you are under 18 and 6 months or if you have been fully vaccinated. If so, you will be advised to get tested but not to self-isolate. If you are over 18 and 6 months and not fully vaccinated, it will advise you to self-isolate and get a test. There is no legal requirement to tell your employer about an app alert.

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.

You should arrange to have a single PCR test whether or not you have symptoms. This is because you are at a higher risk of being infected. You should arrange to have this test as soon as possible after being notified that you are a contact, so that NHS Test and Trace can identify the people that you have been in contact with if your test result is positive. See guidance for contacts of people with confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) infection who do not live with the person.

If you were told to self-isolate, 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.

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

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. This means that you could have and spread the virus without knowing.

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 Perspex (or equivalent) 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 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.

Support for people self-isolating

Statutory Sick Pay

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

Some employers choose to offer more than the statutory minimum and provide additional financial support to their workers while they are unable to work. This is known as ‘contractual’ or ‘occupational’ sick pay.

If you are not eligible for Statutory Sick Pay, 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.

Financial support for the self-employed

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.

If your business has been affected by COVID-19, you may be eligible for a grant through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

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.

More information on the practical or social support available.

Published 27 May 2020
Last updated 13 August 2021 + show all updates
  1. Updated to reflect changes to self-isolation policy from 16 August.

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

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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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

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

  8. Updated to reflect the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

  9. Removed action cards section.

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

  11. 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.

  12. Updated section regarding action cards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  20. 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.

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

  22. 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.

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

  24. First published.