If COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are surging in your state, you’re no doubt doing everything you can to keep your doors open and your employees safe. Testing has as big part to play, but legal (and logistical) questions often stand in the way. Here’s everything you need to know about mandating workplace testing and temperature checks.
Can an Employer Require a COVID Test?
The good news is, making testing mandatory is legal. In normal times, employers are restricted in how they interact regarding an employee’s health but as the pandemic poses a “direct threat” to workplace safety, different rules apply.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have issued guidance clarifying that it is acceptable to require a negative test as a condition of entering the workplace, provided testing is carried out in a proper way:
- Employers must ensure tests are accurate and reliable and consult FDA advice on testing. (Poor quality testing, producing incorrect results, will do more harm than good)
- Tests should be administered by a third-party medical professional or by trained personnel
- Tests results should be treated by employers as confidential medical records
When it comes to hiring employees, businesses need to be particularly careful. An employer may test applicants for COVID-19 but only after making a conditional job offer and only if it is standard policy for all employees beginning this type of job.
Creating a Testing Policy
This summer, the NBA showed that a comprehensive workplace testing regime can really work. While smaller businesses don’t have the same advantages of sporting superstars, some of the same rules apply—creating a workplace bubble and implementing rigorous testing can help stop the spread of the virus.
Before creating a testing policy, you first need to research what tests are available to you as a business. Is it possible for you to initiate testing at your work facility, or will you be relying on off-site testing? How much testing capacity can you realistically afford to implement?
These questions are highly industry specific. If you work in healthcare, your risk levels are far higher, and so your testing regime will need to be much more stringent. For other businesses, you need to decide whether to require testing of all employees, those who been in high-risk situations or those who are showing symptoms.
Here’s what the CDC recommends:
- If employees show symptoms, they should be tested—at work or otherwise. If an employee tests positive, they’ll need to isolate. You may require documentation proving that the employee is safe to return to work.
- If an employee has been in close contact with someone who has since tested positive, the employee should also be tested, but note: there may be a delay between infection and testing positive. An immediate test isn’t conclusive.
- If you’re considering imposing a broad testing program, this should only be done in accordance with state law and local health authority guidance. While ensuring that symptomatic employees are tested is good practice, testing non-symptomatic employees (either before they enter the workplace or on a periodic basis) is only recommended in high-risk settings, particularly where local medical infrastructure is lacking or employees are also housed together.
Note: Antibody tests should not be used to guide whether it’s safe for an employee to enter the workforce, according to official CDC guidance. Only viral diagnostic tests should be used—and anyone tested should receive a FDA patient fact sheet.
Alternatives to COVID-19 Testing
For many employers, it won’t be possible to test for the virus itself. An easier alternative could be to screen for symptoms or impose a temperature check policy. Workplaces have options:
- Temperature Testing
Like testing for the virus, temperature testing is also permitted due to the “direct threat” that the virus poses to workplaces. Like any testing, it should be conducted by trained medical professionals or by an employee who has been given training. A simple forehead scanner is quick and results are instant—however, absence of fever doesn’t mean absence of the virus. Caution is still advised, as asymptomatic infection is common.
- Screening for Symptoms
If using physical equipment to test employees feels invasive, you can instead simply ask them how they are feeling and whether they have felt any symptoms of the virus. This can be carried out through a survey or questionnaire either online or on a mobile application.
Alternatively, you can create a formalized self-certification process. Before each shift, you can ask employees to certify that they do not have symptoms of COVID-19, haven’t had close contact with anyone who has tested positive or is showing symptoms and have not been asked to self-isolate or enter quarantine.
The Bottom Line
While testing—whether by government bodies, health systems or private companies—is important, it doesn’t replace caution in the workplace. Social distancing still has a role to play and will do for some time. This means that employees should still work from home whenever possible.
Get Employee COVID Testing Policy Template
It’s not just about deciding on the best path forward from your business—you need to inform employees. To help businesses, Paycor is offering a free downloadable COVID-19 company testing policy template. Once downloaded, the text can be customized to the needs of your organization.