Under The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self Isolation) (England) Regulations 2020, known as the “lockdown regulations”, which came into effect on 28 September 2020, employers are under an obligation to ensure that any staff who has tested positive for Covid-19 or has come in close contact with someone who has, is prevented from attending the workplace.  

The regulations impose specific legal obligations on employers and workers and prescribe mandatory periods of self-isolation.

Requirements to self-isolate

A worker has a legal obligation to self-isolate when informed that:

  1. They have tested positive for Covid-19
  2. They have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive and is in isolation
  3. Their child, under the age of 18 and who the worker is responsible, has tested positive
  4. Their child has had close contact with someone who has tested positive within their isolation period

The requirements to self-isolate apply when a worker is notified by the Secretary of State or by a person engaged by the health service or by the local authority for this purpose. This will include notification by NHS Track and Trace but exclude notifications by the smartphone application NHS Covid 19. 

Self-Isolation Periods

Self-isolation periods depend on a series of factors such as the worker showing symptoms of the Covid-19, testing positive or having been in close contact with somebody who has.

A worker with symptoms or who has tested positive must self-isolate for 10 days from the date when the symptoms started or, if asymptomatic, 10 days from the date when they tested positive. In the event the symptoms arise after a test, the 10-day period runs from the when the symptoms start. If symptoms continue for more than 10 days, the self-isolation period is extended until the symptoms have cleared.

A worker who lives with someone or who is in a support bubble with someone who tested positive of Covid-19 or with someone who has symptoms, must isolate for 14 days from when that person started having symptoms or from the date of their positive test, if asymptomatic. Given the potential incubation period of Covid-19, a negative test during the 14-day will not terminate the isolation period.

The legal requirement to self-isolate does not seem to apply to a worker when a member of the worker’s household or bubble has to self-isolate because they came into contact with someone who tested positive to the virus outside their household or bubble. 

Obligations on Employers of workers required to self-isolate

Employers are prohibited from knowingly allowing workers who are self-isolating, because they tested positive for Covid-19 or live with a person who has tested positive, to work anywhere other than at their self-isolation location. 

Employers will have to stop the worker working, unless they can work whilst self-isolating at home. 

If in breach, employers can be fined up to £10,000 for multiple offences of failing to discharge their obligation. 

As only workers who are aware of these regulations have an obligation to disclose to their employer that they must self-isolate, employers should ensure that as part of their Covid-secure workplace policies, workers are informed of these obligations and that an efficient notification process is implemented. Workers should be made aware that failing to notify their employer could lead to disciplinary action. 

The tightening of measures is aimed at preventing a ‘second wave’ of coronavirus in the UK. Employers should engage with staff to ensure that their Covid-secure workplaces are not undermined and mitigate the risk of financial penalty.