On 28 March 2021, the Government announced that its COVID-19 rapid testing programme would be extended to allow more businesses make use of it if their employees cannot work from home.
The rapid testing programme is a government initiative introduced to curb the spread of COVID-19 within businesses. It is conducted using lateral flow tests, through which a positive test result can be seen within 30 minutes.
In a recent development, organisations with more than 10 employees who cannot offer rapid testing on-site can now register to have staff test themselves at home – the deadline for registering is 12 April 2021. The test kits will be available from 6 April 2021 and will be free until 30 June 2021. Organisations have been advised to register their interest on the Government’s website as soon as possible, even if they are not yet allowed to reopen due to lockdown restrictions.
The aim of this programme, both in its original and extended form, is to enable as many organisations as possible to test their staff and spot asymptomatic cases of the virus. Ultimately, the end goal is to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace.
So far, the original version of the programme (whereby organisations are given rapid test kits for mass testing on-site) has seen over 60,000 organisations register before its end of March 2021 deadline.
Rapid testing is not a statutory requirement and it is ultimately up to organisations to implement it. That said, unless organisations can clearly justify why mandatory testing is necessary, it should remain optional. Enforcing it, and disciplining employees who refuse to take a test, could lead to costly constructive dismissal claims, unless such a policy is justifiable.
Furthermore, it is unlikely that there will be a clause in employee contracts allowing organisations to require them to be tested. Therefore, to enforce it is likely to be an unlawful change to an employee’s contract terms and conditions. Organisations can therefore encourage their employees to take the opportunity to use the home kits (or be tested on-site) when offered to them.
To facilitate mass testing and aid its success, it is advised that organisations implement a COVID-19 testing policy which employees should have easy access to. The policy should set out why testing is encouraged, who will manage the process in case any issues arise (perhaps a member of HR or line managers), as well as details on how results will be processed once the employee informs the organisations of it. Importantly, if home testing is implemented, it is important that employees are trained on how to properly take the tests – for example, through an informative video explaining the process, or an infographics/leaflet.
Rapid testing should not replace any COVID-secure measures in place on-site, such as social distancing and sanitising.