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Can I collect health data in relation to Covid-19?

Yes. With respect to employees you have an obligation to protect their health so you can gather information to do that. You might gather information from your employees on who has the virus, who has had it and recovered and also who has tested negative. You might also want to know if individuals have been in contact with someone who has it or if they are in a vulnerable group. It is reasonable to want to know where individuals have travelled. In the future it may also be reasonable to know if they are planning to travel to a virus hot spot, as the impact of the virus around the world is likely to continue for some time even after the outbreak has been contained in the UK.

It is reasonable to gather some information about visitors to your site, be they customers or suppliers, as this information will also help protect your staff. However, you should keep what you gather to a minimum. For visitors, it’s unlikely that you need to know anything more than they have Covid-19, are displaying symptoms or have recently been in contact with someone who has the virus.

Related FAQs

What if a contractor is deemed to be employed?

The fee payer that pays the fee to the contractor’s PSC for the services (end user client or agency) will be responsible for operating PAYE and deducting NIC’s. The fee payer must also pay employer NIC’s and where applicable the apprenticeship levy so there will be additional costs involved in the event of a change to employed status for tax purposes.

If the assessment concludes that the contractor is self-employed, the PSC can continue to be paid gross.

Am I obliged to offer staff flexible furlough?

No, there is no obligation on employers to offer a flexible furlough arrangement to staff. Operationally, flexible furlough may not be appropriate for your business and equally, returning on a part-time basis may not be suitable for individuals already furloughed for various reasons. Concerns about returning to work part-time or at all should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

What is Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS)?

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (“CBILS“) is open for applications to provide small businesses with a loan of up to £5m to assist with the Covid-19 outbreak. The Scheme is aimed at businesses who are experiencing lost or deferred revenues, and who otherwise would be denied support from lenders, to be supported by a Government backed guarantee. The Scheme will initially run for six months with the possibility to be extended where required, so businesses should only approach a lender under the Scheme as and when they require assistance.

How should an employer handle personal information in relation to NHS Test and Trace?

Employers will be collecting and sharing health information. Health information is sensitive and higher data protection standards apply. Here are a few key pointers.

  • Update privacy notices to cover the new collection and sharing of employees’ information and provide these to the workforce. Be transparent and fair.
  • Identify the legal basis and condition for use of this information and put any required paperwork in place. The ICO guidance will help. For some conditions such as the employment condition, an Appropriate Policy Document (APD) will be required. The ICO has an APD template.
  • Only use the information for the purpose of managing the workforce during the pandemic.
  • Only collect or share information if it’s necessary – if it’s a targeted and proportionate way of achieving your purpose.
  • Make sure any health information collected and shared is accurate – there may be serious consequences if it’s not.
  • Work out how long the information must be kept for. Keep a record of that period and act on it at the appropriate time.
  • Security is very important – there may be malicious actors trying to trick employers and employees. Make sure employees know how to identify a genuine NHS Test and Trace contact. Keep the information secure. Use the ICO’s data sharing checklists** and keep a record of the disclosures made and why. Control external disclosures – only certain authorised members of staff should make them.
  • Make sure individuals can still exercise their data protection rights – that’s also very important. Keep data protection records up-to-date and ensure any exports of personal information outside the UK are compliant.
  • Before introducing employer-led testing like taking temperatures, thermal imaging or other potentially intrusive tests, work out if a data protection impact assessment (DPIA) is required. It will be if the intended processing is ‘high risk’. If it is, then carry out a full DPIA. It will help address the issues systematically and mitigate risks.
  • All this demonstrates ‘accountability’ – it shows affected individuals and the ICO that the employer is complying with data protection requirements.

If you need further help, please visit the ICO’s data protection and coronavirus information hub or ask our data protection team.

** Please note that this link is to the ICO’s existing checklists and data sharing code of practice. We will update the link to the ICO’s new checklists after they are published.

As an employer, can I force employees to wear face masks at work?

An employer has a duty of care to its workforce and must take reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of employees. Employers also have a duty of care towards anyone entering or using their place of business, such as visiting clients or customers.

This means that if an employer reasonably believes that wearing face masks at work is appropriate and necessary, it can issue an instruction to employees to this effect and employees should abide by this as far as possible.

However employers should be cautious about introducing and enforcing a policy across its business which requires its staff to wear face masks as there is the risk of unlawfully discriminating against people who are exempt from wearing face coverings or have legitimate reasons for not doing so. An employer should also consider the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and discuss any concerns raised by employees who do not want to or feel unable to wear a mask.