When you or your employees have to self-isolate – Q&A
From the 28th of September, the legal duty to self-isolate under certain circumstances has come into force. As a business owner, you have to be aware of what it means for your salon. Today, we will answer the most common questions regarding this new legal duty – how should you react once you are contacted by the NHS Test and Trace call handlers and told you hosted a client who has been tested positive, what kind of support is available for individuals obligated to self-isolate, and what are the fines for forcing an employee to work when they should be self-isolating.
As always, remember that this Q&A was created for your convenience and is a selection of information most relevant to our industry. However, as the situation progresses, there may be changes introduced to the current guidelines and restrictions, so keep in mind that the official government sites should always be your primary source of information and further details.
Why is self-isolation so important?
The spreading of a contagious disease works as a chain reaction. The coronavirus has a spread potential that makes an infected person able to pass it to an average of two other people. It may not sound like much… but the numbers keep adding up quickly. One person infects two others, they infect four, leading to eight, then sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four, one hundred and twenty-eight being infected and so on.… once started, the chain develops rapidly and gets harder and harder to control. And that’s just statistics – we are not even mentioning the “superspreader events”, where multiple people gather indoors with poor ventilation and engage in activities that support the spread (such as talking and singing). In such circumstances, the number of people affected is much, much higher.
However, if we stop even just a few elements of the chain from developing, we can gain some level of control over the spread. The NHS Test and Trace project is doing exactly that – tracking people that were in close contact with individuals who tested positive for the coronavirus and asking them to self-isolate. If you won’t pass the infection on, in the great scheme of things, you save hundreds from getting the virus. The flatter the spread curve, the easier it is to manage the coronavirus crisis.
What to do when you or one of your employees develop symptoms?
It’s very important to inform your employees about the need for being conscious of their state of health. Encourage them to check their body temperature often and ask to not brush aside early symptoms of an infection. Not every case of feeling under the weather equals having COVID-19, but it’s not the time for taking risks.
The procedure assigned by the NHS is clear. As soon as you start experiencing symptoms such as:
- high temperature,
- a new, continuous cough,
- a loss or change to the sense of smell or taste,
you should request a free NHS test. Once the test is ordered, you will be contacted by the NHS Test and Trace workers who will ask you to provide details of the individuals you have been in close contact with recently.
You should start self-isolating immediately and stay isolated until the test results arrive.
Should you or your employee alert co-workers when awaiting the test results?
Yes, it is encouraged. One should inform all people with whom they have had close contact within the 48 hours before symptom onset. In the working environment, it’s advised to tell the employer and let them handle providing this piece of information to the appropriate employees – which means it’s you who takes the responsibility. Remember that you shouldn’t name the individual in question when talking with your crew.
The close contacts of a person awaiting the test results don’t need to self-isolate (note: at this stage), however, they are advised to:
- avoid contact with individuals at high-risk (elderly, people with pre-existing medical conditions)
- be extra thorough in practising good hygiene and social distancing
- watch out for the symptoms and start self-isolating as soon as they develop
What happens when the test turns out to be positive?
If you or one of your employees is confirmed positive, the NHS Test and Trace will notify your close contacts and instruct them to self-isolate. The information can be delivered by:
- a phone call
- a text message
- an email
- a letter
The period of self-isolation is of 14 days, counting from the day of the most recent contact with the person who has tested positive. The identity of the infected person will stay anonymous.
In which circumstances are salon staff members asked to self-isolate?
It is very important for you, as an employer, to understand the weight of the situation. Yes, a sudden disappearance of one of your staff members leaves you in a difficult situation in which you have to apologise and reschedule multiple clients. However, keep in mind that the possible outbreak poses a much greater risk – not only for your business but also for the health and lives of many people, including your customers, employees, you and your family.
You should require an employee to self-isolate if:
- they have alarming symptoms and are awaiting the results of the test
- they have tested positive for the coronavirus
- they stay in one household with someone showing symptoms or who has tested positive for the coronavirus
- they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive and received an NHS Test and Trace notification to self-isolate
How should you treat an employee that is self-isolating?
First of all, you should never, ever, under any circumstances, request or ask them to come to work. Do not ask them to “drop by”, shorten their isolation period or come to work but with stricter safety procedures. A person that should be self-isolating is supposed to stay in their household for 14 days – no exceptions.
You should stay in touch with this employee and provide support. If possible, they can work from home. Unfortunately, in our industry, it is rarely an option – and in this case, you must ensure they receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they meet the eligibility criteria. If they prefer to use their paid leave days, they can do so.
What kind of support can a self-isolating individual receive?
Individuals who are unable to work from home and are required to self-isolate are entitled to a Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Depending on their circumstances, they might also be able to claim Universal Credit and/or new style Employment and Support Allowance.
The criteria for receiving the self-isolation payment are as follows:
- earning more than £120 a week from a single employer
- being instructed to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace (regardless of whether they are already tested positive or have been in close contact with an infected person)
- being employed or self-employed
- being unable to work from home (and losing income as a result)
- currently receiving Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, income-based Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit and/or Pension Credit
Note that this help scheme is currently England-only, but will possibly be introduced UK-wide in the near future.
It was also stated that councils will have the discretion to make payments to individuals who do not meet aforementioned criteria, but are on a low income and could suffer severe financial difficulties as a result of not being able to work.
Can you, as an employer, reclaim SSP?
It is possible. NHS Test and Trace will deliver proof that your employee has been instructed to self-isolate. You should ask the staff member in question to follow the instructions for getting an isolation note – it will be evidence necessary for you to possibly reclaim SSP. You can read more about claiming back the Statutory Sick Pay in the government’s guidance.
What are the consequences of forcing an employee to come to work when they are supposed to be self-isolating?
Forcing (or even allowing!) employees to come to work once they are instructed by the NHS Test and Trace to stay in self-isolation is now liable for fines of up to £10,000.
Remember that keeping your workplace safe is far more important than sticking to your tight schedule. Your clients will understand the situation – you are doing that with the concern of their health as well! Using advanced salon management software is a great help in such emergency situations – apart from being the best solution for fulfilling your duties related to the Test and Trace project, such a system allows you to contact your clients quickly and effectively. Using Versum, you will quickly find the clients assigned to the employee who has to self-isolate and send them a bulk message, informing them about the current situation. No additional stress, frantically flipping through the notebook and feverish calls – full professionalism and effective management in the time of crisis. Start your free trial today and be prepared for anything!