Last reviewed 23 July 2021

Faced with calls from business groups across a range of sectors affected by staff shortages due to employees being required to self-isolate, the Government has updated guidance which was first issued in May 2020.

The revised version of NHS Test and Trace in the workplace, which can be found here, now includes information about self-isolation for workers in critical services.

It states: “In the small number of situations where the self-isolation of close contacts would result in serious disruption to critical services, a limited number of named workers may be able to leave self-isolation under specific controls for the purpose of undertaking critical work only.”

This process is only intended to run until 16 August 2021, when fully vaccinated close contacts will be exempt from self-isolation.

Who to contact

Where employers believe the self-isolation of certain key employees as contacts would result in serious disruption to critical services, they should contact the relevant government department.

Contact email addresses are given for departments together with a note of the sectors which each one covers. These are mainly self-explanatory with food production and supply, for example, being covered by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and border control by the Home Office.

Which sectors are covered?

The sectors to which the new rules apply are: energy; civil nuclear; digital infrastructure; food production and supply; waste; water; veterinary medicines; essential chemicals; essential transport; medicines; medical devices; clinical consumable supplies; emergency services; border control; essential defence outputs and local government.

In some exceptional cases there may be critical roles in sectors not listed above which meet the criteria. These will be agreed on a case-by-case basis. Where employers think this applies, they should contact the government department with responsibility for their sector.

Information required

Where employers believe the self-isolation of certain key employees as contacts would result in serious disruption to critical services, they need to provide the relevant department with the following details:

  • the number of people who it is proposed would leave self-isolation

  • the roles those individuals need to perform

  • the impact failure to do this would have and when this impact is likely to materialise (for example, is it already an issue or likely to materialise in the coming days).

Exceptional process for specific circumstances

The Government makes it clear that this policy applies to named workers in specifically approved workplaces who are fully vaccinated (defined as someone who is 14 days post-final dose) and who have been identified as close contacts.

Permission to attend work is, it emphasises, contingent on following certain controls, agreed by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), to mitigate the risk of increased infection.

This is not, it insists, a blanket exemption for all workers in a sector.

The process will not cover all, or, in most cases, even the majority of workers in critical sectors. The example given is that an exception may be suitable in the case of absences in critical railway signalling roles essential for the functioning of parts of the network but is less likely to be suitable for individual train drivers.