Government announces free COVID workplace tests to all businesses

On the morning of 6 March, the Department of Health and Social Care announced that all businesses will be able to order free lateral flow tests for their employees, regardless of the size of their business (previously it was available to businesses with more than 50 employees).

Businesses must register their interest by 31 March using an online portal which can be found here.

The government have committed to continue providing free tests under the scheme until at least the end of June 2021. The announcement stated:

“Regular testing could be the difference between a workplace being able to stay open and operational, or needing to close due to a COVID-19 outbreak. It will form a crucial part of the government’s plan to gradually and safely ease restrictions as we get back to a more normal life.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said:

“These rapid tests will allow positive cases of COVID-19 to be caught quickly, which is crucial in helping businesses protect their workplaces and employees as we cautiously lift restrictions. I urge all businesses to register their interest in the programme before 31 March to help break chains of transmission and keep people safe.”

Both the Federation of Small Businesses and the CBI issued statements supporting the move and urged businesses to take up the offer. If small businesses can’t offer workplace testing, their local authority will be able to provide lateral flow testing for their employees at community testing sites.

The press release quoted a small business owner describing the benefits of testing for his company:

Our staff work remotely whenever possible, but several roles require a presence in the office or, in the case of installing equipment or delivering remote working solutions, our engineers must attend a client’s premises. The lateral flow tests offer peace of mind to employees and engineers required to visit clients’ premises and being able to access these tests for free will make a huge difference to our business “.

It is important to note that this is not intended to bring about a shift in the ‘work from home’ message. The announcement specifically states: “All those who can work from home should continue to do so”.

This expansion of free testing for small businesses will be welcomed by employers, but brings a host of considerations regarding testing policies, communication with employees, making the taking of tests and revealing of results mandatory, data protection issues, dealing with cases of non-compliance and handling situations where customers and suppliers may have more testing rigorous requirements.

Remember, if you have any questions about the implications of workplace testing in your business, you can call our 24/7 advice line on 0345 844 4848.

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