Property businesses should be looking at this too, especially now that the government has announced that small businesses (over 10 employees), not just larger companies, will have access to government funded Lateral Flow testing.
Here are a few questions estate and letting agent managers should be asking:
• Would regular testing and recording immunisation status help me to improve how I serve my customers?
• Will it help me look after my employees?
• How will it affect my bottom line?
• If I decide to do it, how can I get it done with the minimum amount of distraction and disruption?
A great place to start is by gathering together a Covid-19 Toolkit and creating (or updating) your communications plan to include Covid-19.
Testing and vaccination status are sensitive topics, so I would recommend starting an open discussion with your staff: how do they feel about being tested and what risks do they see in adopting regular point of care testing?
Through an open debate, you can easily provide information to staff. There is also support, if you need it. The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and NHS England provide lots of material for ‘moving the needle’.
Once you and your staff have taken a decision, you will need a plan. It needs to be systematic, transparent and fair. This is the best way to avoid discrimination and the appearance of unfair practices.
This means that outcomes of both testing and vaccination status should be kept as part of your records. Health status is sensitive information and needs to be handled with additional security. It can be simple, if you use the right tools, or a minefield if you use paper and Excel.
Some companies try to carry out testing but don’t record the outcome, or only record if somebody has reported positive.
The big problem with this is what does an absence of result actually mean: was there a test that was negative or simply no test? How do you know/how can you check if somebody simply forgot to test or even forgot to send you the results after testing?
As well as knowing who did what, you also need to know who missed what and when.
Fortunately, the government is helping in two ways: First, by providing test kits free of charge through the workplace test scheme.
It has also funded, through Innovate UK, the development of a new online tool called WorkScreener Covid Manager that manages the entire process with a few clicks, supports bulk uploading of testing data and puts control and information into the hands of managers keen to ensure the safety of their workforce and customers. There is a small charge for this, which is much reduced by the funding that is in place.
Some employees would prefer to carry out tests at home. This is a big bonus of rapid testing; they can collect a set of tests and keep using them, letting their employer know the results before they leave home.
It is much better to find out that somebody tested positive before they come into the office, right? This is not something you want to do manually on a spreadsheet – it’s time-consuming, open to errors, and difficult to keep sensitive information confidential.
Although lots of people do send their results in emails, they do this without realising that this is sensitive information they are emailing and their HR manager should not be asking them to do this in the first place.
Preferably, you need a system that works remotely and securely. With the proportion of vaccinated people increasing in the workforce, it now makes sense to record it at the same time.
Some people cannot or will not be vaccinated, but knowing their status gives you an option to change working practices to support them or their colleagues.
Here are four good reasons why you should track the Covid testing and vaccination status of employees:
1. If you track it, you can make it systematic, transparent and fair. If you don’t you are at the mercy of office gossip and the potential for discrimination.
2. This is useful information that protects not just your staff but also your clients and partners.
3. You will make better decisions and hopefully avoid an outbreak at your workplace.
4. It is quite easy to do and once you start, it can become a simple part of your workplace routine, just like washing hands and online calls.
If an estate agency decides that the best thing to keep staff and clients safe is regular testing, it can be built into a local marketing campaign - letting potential customers know that testing staff is part of how you look after everyone.
The company can also record testing of regular contractors and maintenance providers. Staff can test at home, pop their test details into a system and their office manager uploads the test details in bulk into NHS Test & Trace if required and supported.
With the right tools in place, tracking and appropriately responding to the Covid testing and vaccination status of staff is quick, easy, and secure. And it shows to your staff and customers that you demonstrate that you are a caring and responsible business.
That could be a significant advantage in a marketplace still having to cope with the impact of the pandemic.
*Marta Kalas is co-founder of Thomson Screening, creators of the WorkScreener Covid Manager, a software platform that enables businesses and testing providers to scale irrespective of where, how and what test is carried out.