As restrictions continue to ease across the UK, there has been a sharp increase in the number of people receiving ‘pings’ from the NHS Covid-19 app notifying them to self-isolate after being in close contact with someone who has later tested positive for Covid-19. When an individual is “pinged” by the app, it is strongly recommended that they self-isolate for 10 days from the day they came into contact with the positive Covid case.
However, with more than half a million people pinged by the app in one week alone in July 2021, employers are now facing a new crisis. Dubbed the “pingdemic”, the increase in the number of people receiving ‘pings’ from the NHS Covid-19 app has resulted in significant staff shortages, with some employers having to temporarily close their workplaces as a result.
Although there is no legal obligation to self-isolate when ‘pinged’ by the app, employers may face various legal consequences if they try to persuade workers to come into the workplace after receiving a “ping” from the app, or by telling workers to delete the app from their personal devices.
Damian Phillips sets out some key considerations for employers dealing with the “pingdemic”:
1. Update and review your policies to clarify employees’ obligations if they are notified by the NHS to self-isolate, and ensure that any such policy is clearly communicated and easily accessible to all.
2. You must consider how employees will be paid if they receive a notification from the NHS Covid-19 app. If the employee is able to work from home, this should be arranged for the isolation period of 10-days. It is important that you continue to pay employees who are working from home as normal, provided they are not unwell.
In the event that it is not possible for an employee to work from home, consider whether your sickness policy enables employees to receive sick pay when they are self-isolating. Employees may also wish to take the period as annual leave or unpaid leave to cover this period. Remember that you must handle such requests in a consistent and reasonable manner for all workers.
3. Continue to implement Covid-secure measures in the workplace to minimise disruption if an employee is notified by the Covid-19 app to self-isolate.