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

The advice for people who have a positive lateral flow device (LFD) test result has changed. They are no longer required to have a follow-up polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, and they should stay at home and self-isolate immediately.

People who have a positive LFD test result should only have a follow-up PCR test if:

Main messages

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 PCR test result or reported a positive LFD test result to collect information about their close contacts, who may also be infectious
  • alerts those contacts, checks whether they are legally required to self-isolate or not and provides them with relevant advice including which tests to take

Current advice is that:

You should self-isolate immediately if you show the main symptoms of COVID-19 and book a PCR test as soon as possible, even if you are fully vaccinated.

You do not need to take a PCR test if you have already taken an LFD test and the result was positive. If you develop any of the main symptoms of COVID-19 and you are concerned, or your symptoms are worsening, contact 111 or speak to your GP. In an emergency dial 999.

If you are notified by NHS Test and Trace of a positive PCR test result or notified by NHS Test and Trace to self-isolate after reporting a positive LFD result, you must self-isolate and will be given guidance on when your self-isolation period can end.

You are also legally required to 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 LFD or PCR 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
  • 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
  • you are unvaccinated but taking part in an approved workplace daily contact testing (DCT) scheme

There is further information available for:

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 do not need to self-isolate if you are fully vaccinated, under 18 years, clinically unable to receive the vaccine, or have participated in a vaccine trial. The app will only advise unvaccinated adult contacts to self-isolate. It is crucial to follow the advice received via the app to help stop COVID-19 transmission and keep people safe.

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

If a worker tests positive on a self-reported LFD test, they should report the result, self-isolate and follow the stay at home guidance. They do not need to take a follow-up PCR 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 and provided with necessary public health advice – including which test to take and 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.

Identifying if any of your workers is a contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19

A close contact is a person who has been close to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Workers can be a contact anytime from 2 days before the person who tested positive developed their symptoms, or before the date of their LFD or PCR 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 people who live with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, and 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.

Ensuring your workers self-isolate where necessary

Requirement to self-isolate

If one of your workers is told that they are legally required 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 and are not exempt from self-isolation such as if they are not fully vaccinated

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
  • 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

These contacts are strongly advised to take a daily LFD test for 7 days after they are notified of the contact.

If the worker who has been identified as a contact has a negative LFD test result at the start of the day, they can go to work or school and undertake other daily activities in accordance with national guidance. However, as part of additional risk reduction they are strongly advised to:

  • limit close contact with other people outside their household, especially in crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces
  • work from home if they can
  • wear a face covering in crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces and where they are in close contact with other people
  • limit contact with anyone who is at higher risk of severe illness if infected with COVID-19
  • follow the guidance on how to stay safe and help prevent the spread

This means 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.

The worker should be advised to follow the guidance for people who live with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or the guidance for non-household contacts of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

If a person tests positive during this process or develops symptoms, then they should self-isolate from the date of the positive LFD or PCR test result and follow the advice for people who have received a positive COVID-19 test result.

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 SSP 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.

Workplace daily contact testing (DCT)

The Workplace DCT scheme offers an alternative to self-isolation for unvaccinated contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases in some sectors and workplaces. There are specific protocols for this scheme.

It is only available to workplaces that have been approved to take part in the Workplace DCT scheme.

Staff working in these workplaces can choose to take part in daily contact testing, rather than self-isolate, if they are unvaccinated and have been identified as a close contact of someone outside their household who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Workplace DCT 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 and undertake essential activities for the next 24 hours such as buying food if no one else can do it for them, exercise in an outdoor space, and respond to medical emergencies. If the test is positive or they develop symptoms, they should self-isolate immediately. 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 DCT scheme receive training to ensure they are able to provide daily contact testing safely and effectively.

The daily testing for contacts of COVID-19 scheme (DTCC) is for those who are fully vaccinated and identified as close contacts and are under no legal duty to self-isolate.

Precautionary testing for critical workers

We are sending lateral flow tests directly to the workplaces of 100,000 critical workers in England. Critical workers will be able to take a test on every working day and the provision of precautionary testing will be for an initial 5 weeks. This will help to keep essential services and supply chains running. Roll out started from Monday 10 January.

These critical workers are those who:

  • work in essential services
  • cannot work from home
  • may be at risk of spreading the virus (for example, due to working together in an enclosed space), and
  • have been identified as being in priority, specialist roles

Precautionary testing will help to isolate asymptomatic cases and limit the risk of outbreaks in workplaces, reducing transmission while COVID-19 cases remain high.

People covered by the scheme will include those who work in critical national infrastructure, national security, transport, and food distribution and processing. This includes vital roles in Border Force, Police and Fire and Rescue Services control rooms, electricity generation, test kit warehouses and test labs.

Critical workforces identified for this scheme are within the following sectors:

Department Main sectors covered
Department for Business,
Energy & Industrial Strategy
Chemicals
Civil nuclear
Energy
Space
Department for Digital,
Culture, Media & Sport
Data infrastructure
Essential broadcast infrastructure
Telecoms
Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Essential water and wastewater services
Nationally critical food distribution and processing
Veterinary medicines
Department for Transport Highly specialised roles in supporting critical transport infrastructure
Department of Health
and Social Care
Labs
Test kit warehouses
Wholesale healthcare distributors
Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office International crisis response
Home Office Emergency Services
Law enforcement
National and border security
Ministry of Defence Critical defence activities
Ministry of Justice Prisons

Workers in other sectors (including those in critical workforces not listed above) can continue to order tests for home delivery. Alternatively, people may prefer to pick up tests from a local pharmacy or collection point.

People working in certain workplaces, such as health and social care settings (NHS, adult social care) and education (teaching staff) settings, can access testing through their employers and should continue to follow testing guidance for those settings. Everyone should continue to test in line with government guidance and their employers’ advice.

Guidance for workers

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

You should follow the advice in the stay at home guidance for people with COVID-19.

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 the relevant 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 you should follow the guidance for people who live with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and the guidance for non-household contacts.

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 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.

If you are exempt from the legal duty to self-isolate you should take daily LFD tests for 7 days or until 10 days after your last contact, whichever is earlier. If you have a negative LFD test result at the start of the day, you can go to work or school and undertake other daily activities in accordance with national guidance. However, as part of additional risk reduction you are strongly advised to:

  • limit close contact with other people outside your household, especially in crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces
  • work from home if you can
  • wear a face covering in crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces and where you are in close contact with other people
  • limit contact with anyone who is at higher risk of severe illness if infected with COVID-19
  • follow the guidance on how to stay safe and help prevent the spread

If you test positive during this process or develop symptoms, then you should self-isolate and follow the advice for people who have received a positive COVID-19 test result.

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 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 that you are legally required 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. To apply for the Test and Trace Support Payment, you must have tested positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test or an assisted LFD test, or 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.

If you have a positive self-reported LFD test result, to be eligible to apply for the Test and Trace Support Payment, you must obtain a follow-up PCR test.

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 18 January 2022 + show all updates
  1. Clarified definition of critical workers.

  2. Added Precautionary testing for critical workers.

  3. Updated text to reflect confirmatory PCR policy change.

  4. Updated to reflect changes to the self-isolation guidance.

  5. Updated with advice for contacts who are not legally required to self-isolate to take 7 LFD tests. Removed legal requirements relating to contacts of someone infected with the Omicron variant.

  6. Updated with guidance on Omicron variant.

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

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

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

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

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

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

  14. Updated to reflect the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

  15. Removed action cards section.

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

  17. 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.

  18. Updated section regarding action cards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  26. 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.

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

  28. 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.

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

  30. First published.