How to introduce coronavirus testing at work
All UK nations have now published respective roadmaps for leading out of the current coronavirus lockdown. Though the dates of when certain parts of the economy will reopen are subject to change and vary by country, many HR teams across the nation will be considering how to facilitate a safe return to work.
A key part of this plan will be how to introduce routine testing for employees. So, what does HR need to know to get it right? Find guidance below including insight from speakers of the Returning to the workplace – the role of COVID-19 testing webinar from the CIPD.
As with workplace-mandated vaccination, some employees may object to testing for coronavirus based on their philosophical beliefs or anxieties surrounding the tests and their data.
At consultancy firm Peninsula, coronavirus testing has been in place in the workplace for months already.
Speaking at the CIPD webinar, HR advice and consultancy director Kate Palmer said that thankfully resistance to the tests has been minimal which she thought was due to the company's ability to pitch it correctly when it came to the rollout.
She said: “Right now, as it stands […] everyone is having the test, and key to that is pitch […] people backing it and being on board at every level of this organisation and key to that are your comms.”
For any employees that have been reluctant to get a test, Peninsula took a one-to-one approach to deal with their concerns.
From a legal perspective Matt Reymes-Cole, legal manager at Croner Group, also advised HR to conduct employee consultations prior to the introduction of workplace testing – with unions where applicable.
“Short of a union environment, there's no specific requirement for consultation. But again, where we can, it's a good idea to consult with individuals [on workplace testing] and it helps to ensure that the workforce feel engaged with it.”
Tips for getting internal comms right:
Another point of advice Palmer offered to other HRDs looking to rollout testing was to consider how to handle data protection queries from employees.
Peninsula managed to solve queries by offering one-to-ones with its GDPR officer to talk about how the data would be handled following tests.
Palmer said: “GDPR was something that I wasn't particularly ready for […] think about [it] as a potential obstruction and think about how you're going to address that and deal with that with individuals that raise it.”
How to deal with GDPR queries:
How to test
On top of all consultations and other health and safety considerations, people teams then have the task of deciding whether the company will opt for a community-supported, third-party or DIY approach to testing.
For each option, the government recommended testing employees a minimum of twice per week.
The DIY approach relies on employers setting up their own onsite testing facilities and ensuring staff manning the stations have adequate training and equipment to carry out the tests.
Alternatively, testing can be conducted through a third party on-site which can prove more costly to the business. The UK government has compiled a list of approved private third party testing providers that employers can use here.
A community-supported approach, using established NHS test facilities, is available to small businesses in private and public sectors with fewer than 50 employees. Access to this type of testing is dependent on business’ local authorities.
All employers in England are also now able to register to order free lateral flow coronavirus tests for asymptomatic employees.
To be eligible for the tests, employees must be unable to work from home and businesses can register their interest up until 31 March here.
Regular asymptomatic testing for high-risk workplaces is also being carried out in Scotland and Wales, though eligibility for businesses access the tests may differ.
Specific workplace testing:
Workplace coronavirus testing Scotland
Northern Ireland has also released its own guidance for employers and businesses seeking to support employees in the pandemic. This can be found here.
Don’t get complacent
All webinar panellists were keen to stress that when undertaking testing it is also important for employers to remember and reinforce that it is just one part of a wider workforce strategy aimed at reducing the risk of infection.
Reymes-Cole reminded attendees that workplace risk assessments must be undertaken and businesses must continue to operate under COVID-safe guidelines using hand sanitiser, social distancing and other precautions.
Palmer said: “What with the vaccine rollout, and what with testing - that does in no way, replace the fact that COVID-19 secure measures in every way, have to be still top of your agenda.”
How to keep employees safe from coronavirus: