January 6, 2022

Lateral flow tests for critical workers | How to minimise the impact of Covid-19 absence

As we enter the third year of restrictions due to Covid-19, and infection rates rise, businesses are challenged with planning for an increased number of employee absences. Consequently, Ministers have been tasked with developing “robust contingency plans” for workplace absences that could reach 25% of the workforce.

100,000 critical workers in England will get daily lateral flow tests

The Government has announced plans to provide 100,000 critical workers in England with free daily lateral flow tests in order to catch infections early and avoid the virus spreading to colleagues. The testing regime will start on 10 January for ‘critical national infrastructure’ services including food processing, transport and border staff. With critical workers taking a test on every working day during an initial five-week period, transmission will hopefully be reduced, and asymptomatic cases can also be isolated.

It’s understood that the Government will contact organisations identified regarding the logistics of the scheme. The current testing requirements for other sectors such as healthcare continue and are not impacted by this new scheme.

PCR tests no longer required before self-isolation starts

Up until now, people getting a positive lateral flow test while remaining asymptomatic have been expected to get a confirmatory PCR test and count their period of self-isolation from that point. This requirement is being relaxed so a positive lateral flow test will mark the start of self-isolation (even for those without symptoms). Especially given the perceived shortage of appointments and mail delays in recent weeks, this should save thousands of working days.

How to make contingency plans for Covid-19 staffing shortages

Planning for the impact of Covid-19 has become part of normal business operation. But what could contingency planning for large scale staff absences look like? Aside from lateral flow testing, read on for some points to consider.

Contingency planning
Start by reviewing your business Covid-19 contingency plan. Remember to take into account the impact that increased absence could have on your supply chain, as well as your workforce, as the omicron variant continues to spread.

Training and recruitment
Identify the key critical positions within your business and where possible ensure that multiple employees can cover these roles in the event of a high number of absences.

In addition, consider whether it’s possible to recruit more staff than are required in some critical areas of your business. Moorepay customers can contact us to discuss whether the use of a Fixed Term Contract is appropriate for such circumstances. Where budgets will allow, you could also consider adding staffing agencies to your preferred supplier lists.

Keeping employees safe
As ever, it’s important to ensure staff comply with the Covid-19 regulations to minimise the spread of infection at work. Manage employees to ensure they are following your Covid-19 risk assessments (i.e., wearing facemasks where required unless exempt, infection control measures etc).

Also, make sure employees are following the latest Government rules and guidance. For example, under Plan B employees are required to work from home where possible. As part of this, question every workplace situation including meetings and recruitment interviews to see if these can be carried out remotely rather than face to face. And of course, you need to follow the testing requirements for your sector.

Don’t forget about the importance of employee wellbeing
I’m sure you’ll agree that keeping your employees in work has never been a greater priority. Proactively supporting and maintaining employee wellbeing will help to minimise absences for other reasons. You can do this through promoting any employee assistance programmes you have in place, so staff are aware of the support available to them. In addition, consider how you can show staff you value their flexibility and commitment to the business. This can be as simple as a ‘thank you’ with no cost to your business.

Communicate with employees regularly
Excellent communication is key to ensuring employees know what procedures to follow and what they should do in the event of infection. This will enable you to monitor staff absences and analyse the data to track any trends.

While we await further Government guidance, we realise there is no magic HR solution to this absence crisis. Customers can contact us on our 24/7/365 employment law advice line and  HR support is available as a one-off piece of work for your business or part of an on-going service provided to you by Moorepay.

If you’d like further advice about absence, read our ultimate guide to absence here.

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About the author

Louise Gillibrand

About the author

Louise Gillibrand

Louise is a generalist Human Resource professional with over 18 years’ experience across a variety of sectors including care, medical, retail and telecommunications, and is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Louise provides sound practical and business-focused advice in line with employment legislation and best practice, and has worked in partnership with line managers, senior operational managers and directors. Typical consultancy projects include advice on complex employee relations issues, redundancy programmes, restructures, TUPE, recruitment, policy writing and grievance/disciplinary handling. In addition to her generalist knowledge she is experienced in delivering training on a wide variety of employment law and HR subjects. Louise joined the Moorepay consultancy team in October 2007.

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