As employers inch closer to reopening their doors and resuming regular operations, worker safety is of utmost concern. The coronavirus continues to be a threat, and every individual and business must play their part in preventing its spread.
For employers committed to workplace COVID-19 safety, this may include taking employee temperatures. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach, but both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEEOC) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued guidance regarding the practice.
Here’s what you need to know – and do — to avoid any logistical or legal issues with temperature screenings:
First things first: The EEOC is permitting employers to take employees’ temperature, based on instruction on March 18, 2020. The health screening is job-related and a type of business necessity, so it doesn’t violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Before you implement temperature checks as a screening measure, inform employees of your intent in a clearly written notice or policy you distribute in advance. Explain why you’re conducting the screening (whether a state or local order, industry recommendation or general precaution), the method, specific safety and privacy steps, and the consequences for failing to comply.
Ideally, an onsite nurse or medical professional will conduct the temperature test before the employee enters the physical workplace. But if this is not possible, train and designate one or more management-level employees to do it. It’s preferable to use a no-touch thermometer that reduces contact with the employee, such as a handheld forehead scanner or infrared digital thermometer. Be sure the temperature taker uses Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for employees, such as disposable gloves, masks, goggles and a gown — and conduct the test as privately as possible. In addition, instruct employees standing in line to maintain six feet distance between them.
According to the CDC, a fever for COVID-19 purposes is any temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or more. Your state and local guidelines may vary, however, so verify the details. If an employee registers a fever while working onsite, send him or her home to self-quarantine for 14 days. Even with this timeframe, the employee should only return if they’ve been fever- and symptom-free for at least three days. You should also notify any coworkers who may have been exposed by the affected employee and ask them to self-quarantine for 14 days. Privacy is paramount: When notifying coworkers of possible exposure, do not share the name of the affected employee or answer questions that might reveal his or her identity.
Under EEOC guidance, you can also take a job applicant’s temperature as part of a post-offer, pre-employment medical examination.
Taking an employee’s body temperature is type of medical examination, according to the EEOC. So if you document temperature readings, you must treat the notes as confidential medical information. This is true even if you only indicate ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a form. Only share information about an employee’s results on a need to know basis, and keep all documentation in a separate file, apart from the employee’s personnel file.
Although there isn’t a definitive legal ruling on this, it’s a best practice to pay non-exempt hourly employees for any time spent getting a temperature reading or waiting in line for one. Remember, too, that federal law restricts you from stopping the clock on paid time once a workday begins, short of unpaid lunch breaks. If an employee begins the day with a paid temperature check, any following pre-shift activities may qualify for ‘paid time,’ as well.
Also, you may choose to discipline employees who refuse a temperature check, but you’ll want to tread carefully here to avoid morale issues or other complications. It may be smarter to send the employee home or deny access to the workplace.
In these challenging COVID-19 times, temperature taking is just one of a handful of measures you can take to control the virus. As part of your return to work plan, you’ll also want to practice social distancing, allow remote work and/or staggered shifts, install physical barriers and encourage frequent hand washing.
ComplyRight offers a wide range of solutions designed to help you reinforce your safety protocols, comply with the latest COVID-19 orders and regulations, and maintain thorough records. Check them out at HRdirect.com.
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