Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): general guidance for safer workplaces

Guidance on safer working during the coronavirus pandemic for businesses and organisations not covered by sectoral guidance, for example general offices.

9 page PDF

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9 page PDF

450.0 kB

Coronavirus (COVID-19): general guidance for safer workplaces
Work cohorts

9 page PDF

450.0 kB

Work cohorts (you may know these as 'work bubbles')

As an employer you may wish for small groups of workers to form work cohorts.  As a worker, you may be already working or be asked to work in a cohort. This guidance should be followed by both employers and the workforce.

Work cohorts could be useful where a job role requires groups of the same workers to work in close proximity, such that they are likely to be deemed close contacts as set out in the Coronavirus (COVID-19): Test and Protect - ( guidance. It may help to maintain business operations in the event that a worker develops symptoms or is tested positive for the virus, as exposure would be limited to their particular cohort.

The household cohorts or bubbles of cohort members

The household cohorts or bubbles of cohort members should be considered, this is particularly relevant should a worker be vulnerable or have a vulnerable member within their household.

While cohorts may not be relevant for all organisations, as noted above the principles set out below may help organisations by limiting the impact on their workforce should someone develop symptoms or test positive.

Some employers may already be implementing working groups, cohorts, bubbles, clusters etc. Please reassess your working arrangements against the principles below.

Work cohorts – principles

  • cohorts  should be discussed and agreed with management and recorded. Cohorts must include the least number of people required to do the job
  • cohorts should be designed to allow business continuation if another work cohort is removed from the workforce
  • cohorts should be strictly separated from other cohorts in time and/or space to prevent virus transmission between groups
  • physical distancing and face coverings are required. Physical distancing remains one of the most effective methods to protect ourselves and others. The required distance for most sectors is 2 metres, with the exception of public transport and hospitality (if allowed to operate based on the level of protection currently in force) which have a reduced distance of at least 1 metre This reduced distance is conditional on additional mitigations being implemented, as the risk of transmission at 1 metre is higher. Furthermore, you are legally obliged to wear a face covering in indoor communal workplace settings  except where an exemption applies as defined in the legislation,  or where there is a ‘reasonable excuse’ not to wear a face covering such as eating and drinking in workplace canteens.
  • Consideration should be given to other cohorts workers may be in, for example:
    • if one household has two or more family members working in one organisation/company in different work cohorts. While it may not be possible to include them in the same work cohort, it should be factored into the risk assessment as there is a risk of cross-cohort transmission, should a cohort member develop symptoms.
  • if a worker is vulnerable or more at risk due to transmission or has a member within their household bubble who is in this category Where possible organisation should implement at least a 10 day gap if moving individuals between work cohorts. This would mean the individual that is  moving to another cohort would have to work outwith a cohort for 10 days before joining another cohort. This could be managed via facilitating home (if possible)  isolated/distanced working and appropriate control measures (for example distancing and the use of screens) to minimise transmission risks
  • A further mitigation for consideration would be supporting physical
  • A further mitigation for consideration would be supporting physical distancing via staggering employees’ workplace entry and departure times - effectively eliminating the overlap between different cohorts arriving at and leaving the facility - as well as their access to common areas such as locker rooms and canteens
  • if you have more than one site or premises you may want to restrict where possible cohorts freely moving between different sites and localise work cohorts to a single site, to further minimise worker interactions
  • you may want to look at shift patterns to effectively manage the number of workers in common areas, in relation to the overall number of workers on site, and allow for  regular cleaning of common areas several times throughout the day as well as between shifts, ensuring regular detergent cleaning schedules and procedures are put in place using product which is active against bacteria and viruses
  • a daily symptom screen of the work cohort is another way to reduce the probability of a workforce outbreak. This means checking if any employees in the cohort have developed a new, continuous cough, fever or loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste

Work cohorts and vehicle sharing

  • please see guidance on car and vehicle sharing
  • car sharing should be minimised where possible
  • you may wish to limit vehicle sharing to essential tasks or to keep a vehicle(s) dedicated to a single cohort
  • there should be regular cleaning between journeys and between different cohort use
  • a record should be kept of vehicle use
  • face coverings and distancing requirements still apply
  • you may wish to use larger vehicles with reduced capacity to allow for distancing

Should a worker in a cohort develop symptoms

  • organisations are to follow public health guidance and Test and Protect employers guidance if a worker becomes unwell with coronavirus symptoms at work
  • the person should leave work to self‑isolate straight away and (if not medically exempt), wear a face covering on route and avoid public transport
  • organisations should direct the workers who are part of the work cohort to NHS Inform or, if they can’t get online, call 0800 028 2816, to arrange to get tested. Other workers in the cohort should be informed and directed to NHS Inform.
  • Test and Protect will conduct contact tracing of individuals who have tested positive.  Colleagues of an employee with symptoms may have been close contacts, in particular those in the same cohort. They may be asked by Test and Protect to self-isolate if that employee does test positive.
  • organisations should make sure that staff do not have to, or feel that they have to, come in to work if they are self-isolating. Workers can request an isolation note through NHS Inform



First published: 8 Mar 2021 Last updated: 12 May 2021 -