In the coming days and weeks, many employers will be required (due to various “stay at home” orders) or may want to voluntarily implement at their workplaces the practice of taking employees’ temperatures to help screen for possible COVID-19 infections. This is a completely new dynamic for employers, so now is the time to consider the procedures necessary to safely undertake and productively implement this new measure. Here are some practical considerations when taking employees’ temperatures:
1. Are Employers Required to Implement Temperature Testing?
Unless required by a local or state order, taking temperatures is not required. Widespread testing will require extensive planning, training, and could even be quite expensive. In addition, many individuals infected with COVID-19 will not exhibit symptoms (such as a fever), and thus temperature screening may not screen-out all employees who could transmit the disease to others. If your company does implement temperature testing, the CDC has recommended screening for fevers or more than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, although some states may require different thresholds.
2. Training and Personal Protective Equipment
The safety of all employees is paramount, but those administering temperature screenings will be especially vulnerable to hazards. If you require employees to be within six feet of any individual who may have COVID-19, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that they wear personal protective equipment (PPE) consisting of some combination of gloves, a gown, a face mask, and/or a face shield or goggles.
The screening employees should also be trained on the required PPE under OSHA’s PPE standard. You should also prepare a job hazard assessment and PPE certification related to the screening. To the extent that screeners may also be exposed to bloodborne pathogens (BBP), such as mucous or saliva, you should ensure they are properly trained under OSHA’s BBP standard – which requires employers to prepare an exposure control plan.
Keep in mind that, where not required by a local or state order, the CDC allows employers to screen employees for COVID-19 symptoms, including a fever, without ever touching or interacting with them. You can do so by standing more than six feet away and asking the employee to confirm they do not have a temperature and making a visual inspection of the employee (e.g., looking for flushed cheeks or fatigue). Only under this method could the employee screener not be required to wear PPE.
3. Maintaining Social Distancing
Not only should screening employees be protected, safety measures should also be taken for workers waiting in line to be screened. This includes ensuring employees stand six feet or more from each other while they wait to have their temperature taken.
4. Privacy Concerns
Employee privacy concerns will be prevalent during the employee screening process. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has cautioned that employers can ask employees if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, including taking their temperatures, provided that all biomedical information is maintained as a confidential medical record, and separate from the employee’s personnel file. Some states, such as California, may require employers to provide a notice to all employees prior to screening them for biomedical data.
5. Wage Issues
Keep in mind that hourly, non-exempt employees may claim that their time waiting in line or being screened for a fever before their shift is compensable and thus, they should be paid for it. Although no case law or Department of Labor guidance on point currently exists on this topic, employers may want to err on the side of paying employees throughout the screening process.