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What can you tell your staff if someone is diagnosed with Coronavirus? ICO wades in with some useful advice

Ordinarily employer's can't say very much to others about the health of a particular worker. Information about someone's health is sensitive personal data and employers have to jump through numerous hoops to process it.

But what happens if a worker confirms they have the virus or they are self isolating because they have symptoms? Can you tell other members of staff the reason why they are ill or at home?

According to the UK Information Commissioner the answer is 'yes' - provided you only go as far as necessary to safeguard the health and safety of others working with them.

The guidance says this: 

"You should keep staff informed about cases in your organisation. Remember, you probably don’t need to name individuals and you shouldn’t provide more information than necessary. You have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of your employees, as well as a duty of care. Data protection doesn’t prevent you doing this."

This advice is timely, not least because current guidance produced by NHS 111 online, is that anyone with coronavirus symptoms should self-isolate at home. If they don't need hospital treatment, they won't be tested for the virus and won't know if they have it or not. 

Last week, Public Health England said it was responsible for 'contact tracing' anyone who had been in close contact with someone diagnosed with the virus. But, it looks as though many people with the virus will now remain undiagnosed. 

Tips for employers

  1. You are responsible for the health and safety of your workforce and should already have identified those who are most at risk from catching the virus. If an individual phones in because they have these symptoms, or has been diagnosed with the virus you'll need to find out who they were in close contact with. In some cases this might be obvious because they share the same office etc, but you may also need to ask the employee to get a complete picture. Close contact means direct contact or physical contact within 2 meters (about 3 steps) for 15 minutes or longer.  
  2. Speak to everyone in this group and ask them to follow government advice. If they're in the high risk group, the least risky approach is to ask them to self isolate. 
  3. You only need to give other staff enough information to protect them. In some cases, this may mean telling them the name of the person, but that won't always be necessary. The basic rule of thumb is that you should only tell the smallest possible number of people the minimum amount of personal information about someone else that is necessary to keep them safe. 

Need other information about Coronavirus?

Your staff need to know what to do if they suspect they have the virus or are caring for someone who does. 

We’ve prepared a short, easy to understand policy which covers all the key issues such as notification, pay, emergency leave and home working.  

In this time of crisis, we’d  like to offer a free copy of the policy to anyone who needs one. To get your copy, contact, or call 0121 203 5355.