HR Expert: Workplace COVID-19 testing
A client who is considering testing their employees for coronavirus at work wants some advice on how they can do this successfully. They would also like to know more about the Government’s rapid testing initiative. 

Firstly, it is important to remind your client that they should be allowing their staff to work from home where possible. This is because guidance across the UK remains that employers should prioritise homeworking measures until otherwise stated by the Government.

If your client’s employees have continued to attend work in person because their jobs cannot be done from home, it is understandable that mass testing is being considered. Mass testing in the workplace can enable employers to spot asymptomatic positive cases of the virus and reduce the possibility of it spreading to other members of staff.

To facilitate mass testing and aid its success, your client should think strongly about implementing a COVID-19 testing policy which employees should have easy access to. The policy should set out why testing at work is encouraged, who will manage the process (third party/trained staff), where the testing will take place and how, as well as details on how results will be processed. Importantly, in-house testing should not replace any COVID-secure measures in place, such as social distancing and sanitising.

Furthermore, your client is advised to encourage their employees to take the opportunity to have regular in-house testing when it is offered to them. The word ‘encourage’ is emphasised here as it is unlikely that there will be a clause in employee contracts allowing your client to require them to be tested. Therefore, to enforce it is likely to be an unlawful change to employment contract terms and conditions.

With regards to rapid testing, it is conducted using lateral flow tests, through which a result can be seen within 30 minutes. The Government has not made rapid (or indeed in-house) testing mandatory and it is ultimately up to employers to implement it.

To be eligible to receive the free rapid tests, your client must have a business registered in England; however, it should be noted that they must have also registered their interest on the Government’s website before the end of March 2021 to make use of this programme.

If your client has already registered and would like some insight on the HR considerations of implementing rapid testing, they should note that these are similar to that which have already been mentioned. Rapid testing will need to be carefully planned in terms of:

  • who will administer the tests
  • how many employees will be tested weekly
  • testing location
  • keeping to social distancing guidelines; and
  • implementing policies.

It has recently been announced by the Government that it will be expanding the rapid testing programme so that employers who cannot offer testing on-site, and who have more than 10 employees, can have staff test themselves at home. If eligible, your client must register their interest by 12 April 2021; the test kits will be available for free until 30 June 2021.

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