Track + Trace = Employment Disputes?

There’s a strong possibility that the forthcoming launch of the Government’s Track and Trace system aligned with concerns over health and safety at work, as employees start to return, may lead to an increase in disputes between staff and employers.

The Track and Trace app-based solution introduced by Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been on trial in the Isle of Wight although reports of take up suggest the majority of users are based on the mainland.  The solution was due for a national roll out by mid-May but technical glitches and user experience issues resulted in changes to the specification.  One problem related to the notification of contacts, who may have been in touch with someone who has the virus.  Whilst the primary subject would then take the test and receive the results the anxious contacts were not notified of the results. 

It was also suggested that as the app offers a swift and straightforward way to get a Covid-19 assessment it may result in false claims simply to take a test and thereby create unnecessary quarantine directions to uninfected contacts.

Behind the scenes the customer service workers engaged at £10 an hour to offer guidance and help with connecting those affected by potential contact, are also under pressure.  Reports of a lack of training, poorly structured online meetings and a self-help group on Facebook created by new recruits called The Panic Room, suggests all is not well with the HR management of the Track & Trace service.

Scientists are supportive and in agreement about the reasoning behind the pursuit of a Track and Trace solution however the implementation and current levels of public trust in the Government may prove obstacles in its effectiveness.

Some employee’s will be anxious about returning to work but keen to get back to a level of “normality”.  Problems may arise if an employer fails to provide adequate support for those caught up in a track and trace network of potential infection.  The temptation to continue to go to work and not “go off sick” especially if they feel well, may be too high if the employer is not offering or can ill afford to offer full pay whilst they’re absent.  Any employee who continues to work will be defeating the whole purpose of Track and Trace and also placing colleagues at greater risk of infection. 

Health & Safety Concerns

In addition to the Track and Trace initiative employers will need to prepare their workplace in readiness for social distancing.  One-way systems, floor markings, clear notices and communication by managers will all be essential to avoid awkward breaches and potential fall outs. 

We’ve only to step outside our homes to walk a dog, jog or shop and we can see the wide variation of views on what is “safe” and for that point what 2 metres actually is.  There are cavalier attitudes along with the ultra-cautious who may have good cause to be concerned, especially if they have underlying health issues.

The best advice for employers is to take practical steps that suit their employees and visitors, roles and the overall environment.  It’s also essential to communicate with consistency across all areas of the business to ensure all staff are made aware of their responsibilities for their own and others health and safety.  Any changes to working practices should be documented and made accessible to all staff.

Any breaches of social distancing rules, disruptive or high-risk behaviours should be swiftly and reasonably dealt with.  Noting that these are stressful times, and many have lost loved ones or suffered with their own mental health during this time employers should be measured and again consistent in dealing with such issues.

If staff are forced to self-isolate due to a Track and Trace notification or diagnosis, they should be clear as to what pay arrangements they should be entitled to.  The Government has guaranteed to cover statutory sick pay for each and every occurrence of self-isolation so what will the business contribute?

Here below a helpful “8 top tips” for a return to work risk assessment from Sarah Daniels of Red Cat Partnership.

  1. Don’t think this is a new or extra legal duty; you’ve already got a Policy and Risk Assessments, and COVID risk assessment is the same as any other risk assessment.
  2. Consulting your employees is a legal requirement, so don’t skip this part of the process.
  3. People are genuinely concerned for their health and need to be assured. The Policy and Assessments need to be comprehensive and relevant to their work.
  4. Steal an idea from food factories; think of the flow of people and functions in your workplace and follow this. It will help identify at which points the risks are greatest. So, start at the front door…….
  5. Dig out your copy of our last Newsletter, covering the Legionnaire’s Disease risks in the water systems that need to be dealt with before a mothballed building is brought back into use.
  6. Be realistic about how many people you can safely have within your premises
  7. Provide visual prompts to ensure compliance at all times, not just first thing in the morning
  8. The guidance has been criticised for being vague. So, do what you feel is the right thing. If it’s not safe to open stay closed. If you’re happy to, then adapt to remain safe.