Last reviewed 6 October 2021

Has the change to self-isolation rules in the UK increased the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak in the workplace?

Double-jabbed workers no longer need to isolate after coming into contact with someone with Covid-19. And while that’s great for business, it means staff could be more likely to bring the virus into work. Which increases your risk of a big outbreak and costly closures.

So, how do organisations stay safe, compliant, and open for business?

1. Keep up with and communicate self-isolation rules

Staff need to know when to self-isolate. And to avoid unnecessary staff shortages and closures, they also need to know when they don’t need to. Make sure everyone is aware of the current rules.

Double-vaccinated staff no longer need to isolate when:

  • returning from countries not on the red list

  • they’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus

  • they live with someone who has Covid-19.

However, your non-vaccinated staff will still need to self-isolate in these situations.

Note that, even if not fully vaccinated, the fully vaccinated rules apply to:

  • under-18s resident in the UK

  • those taking part in an approved Covid-19 vaccine trial in the UK or USA

  • those resident in England and medically exempt from taking the vaccine.

Regardless of vaccination status, all staff still need to isolate when they:

  • have Covid-19 symptoms

  • are waiting for PCR test results

  • test positive for Covid-19

  • return from a country on the red list (the self-isolation must take place in a managed hotel).

2. Stick to preventive measures

Organisations are no longer legally required to follow Covid-secure guidance.

However, your Covid control measures should still be based on your risk assessment. Vaccinated people can still carry coronavirus and pass it onto others so it makes sense to continue certain preventive measures to stop the virus spreading.

To reduce the risk of transmission, the Government is still asking employers to:

  • make sure there’s fresh air running through the workplace

  • keep up with regular and thorough cleaning

  • turn staff and customers with Covid-19 symptoms away

  • keep staff and customers up to date with any safety measures

  • complete a risk assessment which outlines the organisation’s safety measures.

3. Encourage vaccine uptake

Self-isolation rules have relaxed for your double-jabbed staff. If the majority of your workforce have now taken the vaccine, you’re less likely to deal with inconvenient staff shortages.

But if your staff are unprotected, they still need to isolate if they get pinged by the NHS app. To avoid big gaps in the rota, it’s important to improve vaccine uptake in your staff.

If there’s a high level of hesitancy in your organisation, here are some basic steps to boost uptake:

  • allow paid time off for vaccine appointments or side effects

  • share vaccine information from reliable sources

  • outline the benefits of taking the vaccine

  • invite an external healthcare expert to answer any questions.

You could even provide an incentive for vaccinated staff, like an extra day of leave. (However, you will need to consider medically exempt staff or those with religious objections, etc otherwise this could be seen as discriminatory.)

4. Use lateral flow testing

One way of picking up asymptomatic Covid spreaders is through the use of lateral flow tests (LFTs).

LFTs can be distributed to staff (or are available for staff to pick up free from pharmacies). Many organisations require staff to test twice a week and report their results through the GOV.UK website. You could request any visitors to complete an LFT 24 hours before their visit.

If an LFT comes back positive, the individual should take a PCR test and self-isolate while they wait for the results.

5. Track who’s been vaccinated

Before the recent change to self-isolation rules, the same rules applied for all employees but now your non-vaccinated workers face a higher chance of self-isolation. And to keep these staff both safe and in work, you may need to do more to protect them. To do that, you’ll need to know who hasn’t received the jab.