Testing Employees for COVID-19
Testing Employees for COVID-19

Testing Employees for COVID-19

As businesses re-open, preventing an outbreak in the workplace is everybody’s top priority. Employers will want to do everything possible to ensure everyone’s safety and one positive step is to mandate workplace testing for COVID-19. But how will this work in practice?

Is It Legal to Test Employees?

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 resutls, 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.

If An Employee Tests Positive For COVID-19, Here’s What To Do.

Creating a Testing Policy

Here’s the dilemma facing many businesses right now—testing seems like it can play a big role in keeping the workplace safe. However, initiating testing procedures isn’t easy. First, you have to choose what kind of tests are right for you. There are a lot of options out there, and they aren’t all reliable.

Some are invasive, and will probably be disliked by employees. Others take too long to produce results. And here’s the kicker: in many places it’s just not possible to find any tests at all. While large companies like Kroger can find tests, smaller less-connected business may struggle. And if you do acquire tests, when should you use them? For every employee who returns to work, for all employees on a daily/weekly basis, or only when employees show symptoms? The balance struck will likely depend on what tests are available. In time, the accessibility and reliability of tests should rise. Until then, many SMBs are playing a waiting game.

Alternatives to Testing

In the absence of tests for COVID-19, workplaces are left with several options:

  1. Temperature Testing
  2. 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.

  3. Screening for Symptoms
  4. 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.

  5. Self-Certification
  6. 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.

Read our guide to creating a safe work environment for employees who can’t work from home.

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