Critical workers exemption

December 13, 2021

COVID-19 Christmas socialising / self isolation

Business and organisations providing vital public services can apply for an exemption to allow essential workers to volunteer to leave self-isolation and return to work, in certain limited circumstance, to allow vital services to continue.

You must be able to demonstrate that staff shortages are in danger of putting essential functions and services at risk.

Staff must volunteer not to self-isolate following a risk assessment of their personal circumstances, and the employers’ duty of care to all their employees must be respected.

Who can apply

You can apply for an exemption if your business or organisation is classed as a Critical National Infrastructure (Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure website) and:

  • is impacted by staff shortages as a direct result of self-isolation requirements
  • a critical service is at imminent risk due to the staff shortage
  • has exhausted all other options to address pressures on operations

How it works

Under the process, before a staff member who is a close contact of a positive case can return to work, they must:

  • have had their second COVID-19 vaccination more than 14 days ago
  • have a valid vaccination record (You can download the NHS Scotland Covid Status app or get a paper record of your vaccine status from NHS Inform)
  • not have symptoms of COVID-19
  • have evidence of a negative PCR test
  • take daily lateral flow tests for up to 10 days after being exposed to the virus
  • fully comply with any PPE requirements, hand hygiene and other infection control measures

Staff who cannot reasonably isolate from on-going exposure to a COVID-19 positive household member will not usually be asked to return to work.

How to apply

To request an exemption business and organisations should email:

In your email you will need to demonstrate/explain:

  • that your organisation is a Critical National Infrastructure, as defined by the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure
  • how self-isolation is impacting your critical functions and services
  • what steps you have already taken to address this pressure
  • the impact of no action
  • the scope of the requested exemption – location, number of staff etc
  • whether you are currently engaging with a local incident managemen team (IMT) regarding outbreak management

What happens next

Once your application has been received, the request will be engaged with relevant agencies and respond as soon as a decision has been made.

If your exemption request is approved, your business/organisation should engage with staff and union officials to make it clear that the decision not to self-isolate:

  • is voluntary
  • subject to personal risk assessment which should consider the individuals contacts and vulnerabilities

Exemptions will be made on a temporary basis and last only for as long as there is an immediate risk to business or service continuity.

The impact of these exemptions will be closely monitored, and considered at the next review point.

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