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Changes to self-isolation rules – what do employers need to know?

  • United Kingdom
  • Employment law

13-08-2021

Some employers in essential services or employing workers in critical national infrastructure roles have already been participating in government arrangements to provide exemptions from self-isolation rules.

For workers of other employers, the self-isolation rules change on 16 August in England, following similar changes in Scotland on 9 August and Wales on 7 August. The rules do, however, slightly differ across the three nations. Employers should refer to the guidance in each of the devolved nations for the full details but we set out the key points below.

It is, however, important to note that, despite these changes, there will be many circumstances where workers are still required to self-isolate, including where they have tested positive; they are displaying symptoms; or they share a household with someone who has symptoms/tests positive and the worker is not covered by the new exemptions.

They will also need to self-isolate where they are instructed to do so by NHS Test and Trace (in England), NHS Test and Protect (in Scotland) or NHS Test, Trace, Protect (in Wales), and where they need to quarantine following foreign travel. As before, where the employer of a self-isolating worker is aware of the requirement to self-isolate, it must not knowingly allow the worker to attend the workplace. Non-compliance risks a fine, starting from £1,000 but up to £10,000 for repeat offenders.

Changes to self-isolation rules

In England, from 16 August, individuals will not be required to self-isolate if they live in the same household as someone with COVID-19 and any of the following apply:

  • they are fully vaccinated
  • they are below the age of 18 years 6 months
  • they have taken part in or are currently part of an approved COVID-19 vaccine trial
  • they are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons

The same principles apply to someone who has been identified as a close contact of a person who has had a positive COVID-19 test but who is not from the person’s household, such as a contact in a work or social setting.

Fully vaccinated means that they have been vaccinated with an MHRA approved COVID-19 vaccine in the UK, and at least 14 days have passed since they received the recommended doses of that vaccine. In other words, under the current regime – 14 days after the second dose.

NHS Test and Trace will contact the individual to let them know that they have been identified as a contact and check whether they are legally required to self-isolate. If they are not, they will be provided with advice on testing and given guidance on preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Note in particular, that they will be advised to have a PCR test but this is not a requirement to avoid self-isolation (unlike in Scotland). They will still need to self-isolate if they have symptoms themselves.

The guidance says that even though they will no longer have to self-isolate, they may consider limiting close contact with other people outside their household, especially in enclosed spaces; wearing a face covering in enclosed spaces and where they are unable to maintain social distancing; limiting contact with anyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable; and taking part in regular LFD testing.

In Scotland, from 9 August, close contacts, can end self-isolation if they:

  • are fully vaccinated; or
  • are under 18 years and 4 months; or
  • they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons

They can, however, only end self isolation if they have a negative PCR test and do not have symptoms.

In Wales, from 7 August, individuals will not be asked to self-isolate if they:

  • have been fully vaccinated; or
  • are under 18

They will still receive a call from contact tracers, but they will not be asked to self-isolate (assuming they do not have symptoms). They will be offered a PCR test and provided with advice and guidance about what can be done to minimise any risks and stay safe. For example, by remaining vigilant for new symptoms, and avoiding contact with vulnerable family and friends in the short-term (e.g. elderly relatives or those who are higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection). They are strongly advised against any hospital or care home visits for 10 days.

As with England the PCR test is not required to cease self-isolation. Currently there is no exemption in the Welsh guidance for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.