Regular Covid-19 testing is crucial for our roadmap out of lockdown — it’s how we can minimise the spread of Covid-19, and get back to business as safely as possible.
But can companies make coronavirus testing mandatory, or can employees refuse to be tested?
Can employees refuse Covid-19 testing?
In short, yes, UK employees can refuse to be tested for coronavirus. It’s an employee’s right to decide whether or not they take a Covid-19test, not their employer’s.
Some companies may have the right to take disciplinary action if an employee refuses to take a reasonably and proportionately required Covid-19test. Defining when that’s the case, however, isn’t always easy. It will depend on:
- An organisation’s specific circumstances, in terms of their industry and work premises
- How significantly testing will contribute to a safe working environment
- Whether alternative safety measures could be just as effective to minimise risk
And even if mandatory Covid-19testing is seen as a reasonable requirement, whether an employer can legally sanction employees who refuse to take a test is a different question. That’ll depend on specific contracts and employment terms.
Some companies could have medical testing clauses already in their employment contracts, for example. If that’s the case, implementing a mandatory Covid-19testing policy could be more viable.
But even then, there is no legal precedent to determine what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to mandatory Covid-19testing in the workplace. You’ll need to consult a lawyer before taking any action.
3 top tips for encouraging workplace Covid-19testing
Companies should work to create an environment that encourages Covid-19testing and its benefits. That way, you may never need to deal with refusals or tension.
Here’s how to build trust and reassurance from employees:
- Be transparent
If you want your employees to take a Covid-19test, you’ll need to be transparent with them about what that means. You should be clear about…
What type of Covid-19test you’re going to offer
Are you going to offer a PCR test, an antigen test, or a lateral flow test? Your employees will want to know, before agreeing to test at work.
Check out our Covid-19test procedures guide to find out more about how each Covid-19test works in action.
How you’ll be procuring your Covid-19tests
Your staff will also want to know where your tests are coming from.
You can either:
The first is free, but the second offers a faster turnaround, guaranteed supply, and trained healthcare professionals to administer the tests.
How the tests will be carried out
Will your employees have to administer the tests themselves?
Will you work with a provider that carries out the tests for you?
Or will you let your staff decide how they want to be tested?
The answer to those questions could have a big impact on how well your corporate testing plans go down, so present them from the outset.
Why Covid-19testing is so important
Why, specifically, do your employees need to take a Covid-19test?
Answer that question in as much detail as you can, and your employees are far more likely to get on board with your testing programme.
How often your staff will need to take a Covid-19test
The government advises that each employee takes two lateral flow tests per week. Make sure your staff are aware of this frequency, and that you reflect it in your own testing plans.
What will happen if an employee tests positive
Employees will want to know the full picture before consenting to Covid-19testing. How soon will their results be available? What happens if they test positive? If they can’t come in to work, will they still be paid?
Be clear about the steps they need to take, and how you’re going to help them if they do end up catching the virus:
- Tell them how long they need to self-isolate for
- Let them work from home, if they can
- Give them paid time off to recover, if they need it
- Reassure them about how their absence will be recorded
- Reassure your staff that their data will be safe
Coronavirus test results are classed as personal data and employers must process them in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation.
In short, this requires that all data is:
- Processed lawfully, fairly and transparently
- Obtained for specified and legitimate purposes only
- Limited to what is necessary
- Accurate and up-to-date
- Connected to a data subject for a limited period of time
- Stored securely and protected against loss, damage, destruction and unlawful use
Article 9 of the GDPR also applies to medical test results, too, as they are examples of ‘special category data’. This means they must be handled with an even higher degree of sensitivity.
Reassuring your employees that you can meet these conditions will remove any anxiety they might have about handing over their test results to you.
For more advice on how to process Covid-19test results, we recommend taking a look at the ICOs guidance on Covid-19testing here.
- Write and circulate a Covid-19testing policy
Collate the above information and present it in one, centralised and easy-to-access place. Known as ‘Covid-19testing policy’, this document (or documents) act as a go-to for any staff members who need extra reassurance or guidance.
A Covid-19testing policy not only gets you and your workforce on the same page, it also helps demonstrate how transparent you’ve been with your testing plans.
Send the document in a company-wide email, and welcome any feedback or questions. Show your staff that their opinions matter — and take into account what they have to say.
Are you looking for corporate Covid-19testing?
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