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Managing the emergence of COVID-19 cases in the workplace

Guidance for employers, businesses and workers to manage the risk of transmission in the workplace whilst supporting the NHS test and trace service.

This page was updated on 4 February 2021. 

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As an employer, what is your role in preventing the spread of COVID-19?

There are numerous considerations for employers around the health, safety and wellbeing of their colleagues and customers. This guide clarifies the actions to take if there is a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 and the steps to take to minimise the spread of infection. 

Public Health England North West has also developed a resource pack including relevant government guidance, local area key contact details and a series of useful checklists and templates. 

Download workplace resource pack

One of my staff is experiencing coronavirus symptoms – what do they need to do?

As soon as an employee starts exhibiting coronavirus symptoms (a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, or a loss or change to their sense of smell or taste) they must be sent home immediately to self-isolate for 10 days.

Their household or members of their support bubble must also self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of whether or not they are showing symptoms. 

The staff member should book a test as soon as they are experiencing symptoms by visiting the NHS website or calling 119.

  • If the test comes back negative, they no longer need to self-isolate. Members of their household of support bubble can also stop isolating.
  • If the test is positive, they must complete the remainder of their 10-day isolation period and their household/support bubble must also complete the 10-day isolation period. Failure to self-isolate for the full time-period can result in a fine, starting from £1,000.

They will then be contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service and should provide contact details for people they have been in close contact within the 48-hours before they started to develop their symptoms. These details will be held in strict confidence and will only be used in compliance with data protection laws.

In this case, when a staff member develops COVID-19 symptoms while at work, the employer should record the absence and undertake environmental cleaning as per the published guidance. Businesses do not need to notify the local authority or PHE Health Protection Team.

If the member of staff tests negative they can stop self-isolating and return to work if they feel well. If the staff member tests positive, the employer should determine if there are any workplace contacts and advise them to self-isolate for 10 days. These individuals should arrange for a test if they develop symptoms but should not get tested if they feel well.

How is a ‘contact’ defined?

Government guidance states that a contact is a person who has been close to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 with a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

A contact can be anyone: 

  • living in the same household as someone with COVID-19 symptoms or who has tested positive for COVID-19
  • who has had any of the following types of contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 with a PCR test:
    • Face-to-face contact at a distance of less than 1 metre
    • Been within 2 metres of someone for more than 15 minutes (either as a one-off contact or added up together over one day)
    • Travelled in a car or small vehicle with someone – even if it was only for a very short amount of time
    • Sat close to someone on a plane

Interaction between 2 people having taken place through a Perspex (or equivalent) screen, will not be considered sufficient contact, provided that there has been no other contact. 

What does a positive result mean for the close contacts?

Anyone identified as having been in close contact with someone who has tested positive will be contacted and required to self-isolate for 10 days (from their last contact with the person who has tested positive) - even if they do not exhibit symptoms - to ensure the risk of the spread of the virus is limited. 

Failure to self-isolate for the full time-period can result in a fine, starting from £1,000.

If they experience symptoms, they should book a test immediately and their household or support bubble should isolate for 10 days.

  • If the test is positive, they must self-isolate for at least 10 days from when the symptoms started. This also applies to their household or support bubble.
  • If the test comes back negative, they must still complete the 10-day isolation period (from when they were last in contact with the person who has coronavirus). However, other members of their household or support bubble can stop isolating immediately.

What are my responsibilities as an employer?

  • As an employer, you should help your employees self-isolate if they:

    • have coronavirus symptoms and are waiting for a test result
    • have tested positive for coronavirus
    • are a member of the same household as someone who has symptoms or has tested positive for coronavirus
    • have received a notification to self-isolate from NHS Test and Trace, either from a contact tracer or via the NHS COVID-19 app

      From 28 September, people are required by law to self-isolate and those breaching self-isolation rules along with those preventing others from self-isolating may face fines

  • Any members of staff who are having to self-isolate are entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for the duration of their isolation period. However, if they feel well enough and are able, they can choose to continue to work.
  • As an employer, and depending on the circumstances of how an employee contracted COVID-19, you may be required to complete a RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013). Check out this HSE guidance on RIDDOR reporting for more information. 
  • Employers wishing to provide a test to staff must not advise individuals without symptoms to get a test from the limited supply offered by Test and Trace. Businesses with over 50 employees can register to order rapid lateral flow tests for their employees who cannot work from home. In addition, in many local authorities, critical workers and other people who are unable to work from home can regularly get tested through their council’s community asymptomatic testing programme. Read our guide for more information. 
  • The government has published guidance on how to safely dispose of personal or business waste, including face coverings and personal protective equipment (PPE), during the coronavirus pandemic.

Test and Trace

The government has asked certain sectors including hospitality, leisure and tourism, close contact services and others to collect and maintain records of staff, customers and visitors for 21 days to support the NHS Test and Trace service.

From 18 September, having a system in place to collect Track and Trace data and asking customers, visitors and staff to provide these details is required by law in England. Specifically in the hospitality sector, pubs, bars and restaurants are required to refuse entry or service to customers who refuse to provide contact details or "check in" using the official NHS COVID-19 App. In addition, in hospitality, when a group visits your premises you will need to ensure at least one member of the party provides their contact details and the number of people in their group (max. 6) or that the whole group "checks in" using the official NHS QR code poster. 

Guidance published by the Department of Health and Social Care outlines the information required to be collected and how records should be maintained. The Growth Company has also developed an easy-to-read infographic for businesses which is available to download here.

Employers can access guidance relating to data protection and workplace testing through the Information Commissioner's Office, the UK's independent body set up to uphold information rights.

How can I best support contact tracing in the workplace?

To support contact tracing, employers should consider introducing shift bubbles or shift buddies, if possible. This means asking staff to work in pairs, or very small numbers (bubbles), so you can keep tabs on exactly who they have been in close contact with. Employees should not mix with anyone outside of their pairing or bubble whilst on your premises.

If you have clients or customers visiting your site, you should also create a written log of their details when they arrive and list the members of staff who they will be meeting with. From 24 September businesses are also able to display NHS QR posters to allow customers to "check in" using the NHS COVID-19 App. For businesses in certain sectors this is a legal requirement


Do I need to report an outbreak of Covid in my business?

If a confirmed case of COVID-19 has occurred in your business, the government has developed a series of sector-specific early outbreak management action cards which can be downloaded or printed and provide key steps to help you quickly identify, report and respond to any potential COVID-19 outbreaks within the local community. 

For more information on when to call your local health protection team, see individual business action cards. 

Do I need to close my business?

Your business does not need to close if someone tests positive, but you should follow this cleaning advice to reduce the risk of the disease spreading to other employees:

  • Once the employee has left the building, sanitise your workplace with disinfectant – wear disposable gloves and aprons whilst doing so.
  • After use, double-bag the gloves and aprons, then store them securely for 72 hours before throwing them away in your regular rubbish.
  • Use a disposable cloth, and begin by cleaning hard surfaces with soapy water, followed by disinfectant.
  • Pay close attention to frequently touched areas, such as door handles, bannisters and lift buttons.
  • If an area has been heavily contaminated – such as with visible bodily fluids from an infected person – use protection for the eyes, mouth and nose in addition to wearing gloves and an apron.
  • Wash hands regularly, with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and straight after removing any PPE used whilst cleaning.

Further guidance relating to general principles of cleaning during the COVID-19 pandemic and cleaning a work place/area where a person with suspected or confirmed Coronavirus has been can be seen through the government page on cleaning in non-healthcare settings outside the home. 

If you don’t feel comfortable cleaning yourself, you can enlist the services of a professional cleaning company to give your premises a deep clean. Aspire Recruitment, the Growth Company’s in-house recruitment agency, have partnered with a specialist cleaning company to offer deep-cleaning services to businesses of all shapes and sizes across Greater Manchester. Find out more about booking a deep clean here.


More information is available on the UK Government’s Coronavirus Business Support website. For more personalised advice call us on: 0161 237 4128 or email us at:


The information provided is meant as a general guide only rather than advice or assurance. GC Business Growth Hub does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information and professional guidance should be sought on all aspects of business planning and responses to the coronavirus. Use of this guide and toolkit are entirely at the risk of the user. Any hyperlinks from this document are to external resources not connected to the GC Business Growth Hub and The Growth Company is not responsible for the content within any hyperlinked site.

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