Following news that a very small group of critical workers will be exempt from self-isolation for work purposes, it has now been revealed that employers will need to apply on behalf of individual staff.

According to a Downing Street spokesperson, the Government is not planning to release a list of key workers who will be exempt from self-isolation measures.

Instead, employers will be expected to apply to Government departments on a case-by-case basis, according to a new report by Sky News.

This comes after up to half a million people in the UK were informed by the NHS Test and Trace app to self-isolate, leading to mass staff shortages in various sectors.

This also prompted calls from various groups, including the CIPD, to change self-isolation rules ahead of 16th August – either to a ‘test and release’ system or altering the system so people who have received both jabs can immediately end their self-isolation period.

Since then, the Government announced that a limited number of critical workers may be able to leave self-isolation in order to attend work, if permitted by the relevant Government department.

However, this policy only applies to workers who are fully vaccinated and will be solely so that they can attend work. Outside of work purposes, the employee will be expected to self-isolate in accordance with advice from the NHS Test and Trace app.

If they test positive or start to show symptoms they must immediately self-isolate and will no longer be able to attend work.

A spokesperson for Downing Street suggested that the critical workers who are exempt could include staff in the food industry, utilities, border staff or the NHS. However, the source further stated that the first exemptions have already been given, in both wider sectors and the NHS.

In light of this, many businesses have asked for further clarifications regarding the exemptions and which workers will be permitted to continue working.

Claire Walker, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said:

The messages coming out of government seemed to have changed hour by hour today and firms are really struggling to make sense of them.

Businesses urgently need government to get control and provide clear and unambiguous guidance on what they can and cannot do, as well as provide a clear direction forward.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, added:

Confusion reigns once again for employers who might, or might not, be able to use the new Government exemption from self-isolation for critical workers who get a notification of being a close contact of someone who has tested positive.

The process is unclear and appears to contain so much red tape that it may put employers off from applying for their worker to be excused from isolating. Current guidance is that this exclusion is not available on a broad scale and will only actually apply in very limited circumstances but without any kind of clearer indication, employers are none the wiser about how ‘critical’ will be defined.

One good thing is that the measure is only needed until 16 August when no double vaccinated person will have to isolate on receipt of a close contact notification.