Businesses have until 31 March 2021 to sign up for the Government's free workplace testing scheme. Under the scheme, employers can register to receive free lateral flow tests to test employees for symptoms of coronavirus. The tests will remain free until the end of June, but employers may need to pay for tests after that point.
The scheme has already proved popular with employers, with around 50,000 signing up in the first week of the scheme. The Government is strongly encouraging businesses to register their interest before the 31 March deadline. Full details of the scheme (including how to sign up) are available here.
Any workplace testing regime will require careful consideration of the data protection and employment law implications. Employers should not assume that they will be entitled to discipline staff who refuse to take a test or refuse them entry to premises: whether this is reasonable will depend on the individual facts. Neither will testing replace other measures needed to keep workplaces COVID-secure (particularly as the tests do not identify all infected individuals). Employers should continue to follow the Government guidance on infection control at work. Employers will also need to consider the practicalities of testing: staff will need training on how to carry out the tests effectively and accurately.
We would also recommend that employers which are planning to introduce testing consult with staff about the plans, explaining when and how testing will be carried out, what the implications will be and what measures will be put in place for any staff who have medical conditions which make it difficult for them to take the test.
However, given the tight deadline, we recommend that businesses register their interest and then continue to consider these issues internally in the meantime.