Covid Travel Test can also be used for work employees to ensure they're safe from a positive test and are healthy enough to be at work

With the emergence of the omicron variant of COVID-19 and the return of restrictions, many employers have been pondering whether to reintroduce regular testing for their employees.

Testing today is a world away from where it was at the beginning of the pandemic. Businesses now have much more access to cheaper, faster COVID-19 tests that can help to safeguard employees and help keep operations running.

From offices to high-street shops and factories to production facilities, employers across all industries should now be thinking about the role they play in the testing effort.

Why it’s important to conduct workplace testing

Testing is especially important now that we’re currently experiencing a huge rise in cases, the highest that the country has seen since the beginning of the pandemic, and the return of restrictions and the threat of potential further restrictions which the government has refused to rule out.

Regular testing for COVID-19 in the workplace is an effective way to keep on top of the spread of coronavirus for your employees. This safeguards their wellbeing and reduces the impact of the virus spreading. Testing also helps ensure that employees are returning to work only when they’re regularly testing negative for the virus.

Consider whether COVID-19 testing makes sense for your business

As an employer, you’ve got to decide whether carrying out mandatory lateral flow COVID-19 testing is the right move for your business, especially now that you can no longer access free tests.

When considering whether to continue testing, it’s important to weigh up the latest government advice along with the needs of your employees, your operations, and the industry your business operates in. 

Given the current state of things, with a new variant posing a huge threat and making cases skyrocket, it’s wise to continue providing testing for your employees that are still working on-site. This helps to build trust and confidence and helps safeguard your business against too much disruption.

Workplace testing for COVID-19: What are the options?

So, with the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic well and truly here thanks to the omicron variant, what options do employers have when it comes to providing testing for their employees?

It was previously the case that businesses were able to order free testing kits from the government to distribute to their employees. As of August, however, this scheme is no longer active, and businesses were forced to either buy COVID tests privately or stop testing programmes altogether.

It should come as no surprise that many businesses opted for the latter and scaled down their internal testing programmes. At the time, many assumed that the pandemic was pretty much over thanks to the UK’s progress with vaccinations, most people were back to work as normal, and the economy was starting to pick up again.

The situation in July and August is very different to the situation we’re facing now, though, and many employers are understandably keen to begin providing their employees with testing options.

At the time of writing, the best option available to businesses is the procurement of COVID-19 lateral flow tests privately. These can be purchased in bulk from suppliers such as CovidTests.co.uk at a cost-effective price.

There are other options available however and these will be looked at later on.

What are lateral flow tests?

A lateral flow test uses the same type of technology as that found in pregnancy tests. By this point, most of us are familiar with them and they’ve become a staple of our lives.

After the sample from the testing swab is put into a special solution, it is transferred to the LFD and a result is delivered in around 30 minutes. The test paper inside the LFD changes colour if the swab sample taken from the throat and nose indicates that coronavirus is present in it.

Lateral flow tests can identify whether someone currently has the virus, helping to pinpoint cases and outbreaks. While it’s true that the NHS is the main route to access free PCR tests for those with symptoms, those without symptoms mostly rely on regular lateral flow testing—this is a faster and more convenient alternative.

Should employees get tested even if they don’t have symptoms?

Even if employees do not have any symptoms, it’s good practice for them to carry out regular lateral flow testing. Those with symptoms should of course self-isolate and seek a PCR test through the NHS, as should those who have a positive lateral flow test result.

How often should testing be performed?

The UK Government recommends that private-sector employers offer their workforce (who are on-site) access to a minimum of 2 lateral flow tests every week. This will help identify staff who are carrying the virus without displaying symptoms, reducing the risk of transmission.

Should we offer antibody testing?

Antibody testing is a great tool for knowing your employees’ COVID-19 immunity status.

While there’s still a lot of research that needs to be done about COVID-19 immunity and how long it lasts, as well as the impact different variants have, knowing immunity status helps employers mitigate risk and make more informed choices on both a small and larger scale.

Antibody tests are available to purchase just like lateral flow antigen tests are. It’s worth noting that antibody tests require a blood sample, however, and this might be a problem for some employees.

As with lateral flow testing, it’s down to businesses to decide whether and how to implement antibody testing.

What if staff are worried about testing?

Staff might not want to get tested because of worries that if they test positive, they will be forced to miss work and suffer financially as a result, or that they might be treated differently as a result.

To help reassure staff about being tested, employers could consider changing the way they deal with time off after testing positive for COVID-19.

For example, keep paying staff that are absent due to COVID-19 and ensure that they’re paid their normal rate of pay. It’s also good practice to not count COVID-related time off in absence records or towards any disciplinary or ‘trigger’ systems that might be in place.

Procedures for conducting workplace testing

The UK Government has published its own guidance and legal requirements and best practices for workplace testing. Any employer seriously considering introducing this must read the procedure carefully.

Law firm Allen & Overy also published key considerations for employers thinking about introducing mandatory workplace testing.

In short, the procedures identify three options for workplace testing:

Employer-led

Third-party

Community

1. Employer-led testing

Employers can set up their own testing programmes. This is typically achieved through buying lateral flow tests and distributing these to employees according to internal policies.

Employers are free to set their own testing rules, such as how often tests should be taken and how results should be reported.

2. Third-party provider testing

There are several third-party private sector firms that have been accredited via UKAS to provide on-site COVID-19 testing services for employers.

Employers who would like on-site testing to be completed by a private provider should partner with a government-approved provider.

3. Community testing

Public and private sector employers that have fewer than 50 employees can access testing through local authorities that have testing sites for non-symptomatic members of the public.

Employers should check their local authority’s website for further information on community testing programmes that are available to them.

Speak to your employees first

If you’re going to introduce mandatory workplace testing, it’s a good idea to talk to your staff first. Employers might also wish to speak to a trade union or other employee representative group to discuss:

how testing would be carried out

how staff would get their test results

the process to follow if someone tests positive for COVID-19

pay if someone needs to self-isolate but cannot work from home

how someone's absence would be recorded if they need to take time off work

how testing data will be used, stored and deleted, in line with data protection laws

Any decisions made afterwards should be put in writing and sent to all employees and made in line with existing internal policies.

Even if staff are regularly tested, they must continue to follow guidance on workplace safety and self-isolation for COVID-19.

Buy lateral flow tests for workplace COVID testing

At CovidTests.co.uk we stock a wide range of accurate and affordable lateral flow tests. These can be purchased in bulk to support the testing efforts of organizations of any size.

Click here to find out more.