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The latest question of whether to take employee’s temperatures – what does this look like?

Banner image of COVID-19 social distancing advice and safety measures

By: Monica Harrison, HR Manager, PHR, SHRM-CP, IPMA-SCP | (redacted) | 503-400-3130 | 800-285-5461 x13

As we all start to transition back to “normal” in what will be the post-COVID-19 reality, employers and employees will be navigating through unique truths and out of the ordinary situations. Perhaps you will be, as part of your regular schedule, continuing to work from home. Maybe the office space you once shared will become an office for one. Perhaps the work environment will look more like a hospital floor with everyone wearing masks. Every employer is doing their best to ensure the safety of their employees as they open their doors once again, and that can take on many different appearances.

One of the things you as an employer may choose to do is to take your employees’ temperatures to check for a fever; a potential sign of someone having the virus. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has given employers the green light to take employees’ temperatures upon arrival at the workplace. But what should this look like? And will this work in trying to deter the spread of the coronavirus?

 

The EEOC stated, “Generally, measuring an employee's body temperature is a medical examination.” In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits medical examinations unless they are job-related and consistent with business necessity.

However, because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local health authorities have acknowledged community spread of COVID-19 and have issued related precautions, employers may measure employees' body temperatures.

If you are going to implement this practice of taking your employees’ temperature as currently permitted, you must be very careful in how you do this. What will taking someone’s temperature really tell you? There are many who have contagion who do not have a high temperature and some people with a fever do not have COVID-19.

If you choose to take employees’ temperatures, you will need to develop your policies and procedures for the “what ifs”. What if you have an employee you send home for a high temperature? If you send them home, do you pay them? What if you have an employee who refuses to have their temperature taken? Would you send that worker home without pay? There are many variables to consider.

With the understanding that taking the worker’s temperature is considered a medical examination, the information you obtain must be kept confidential. You as the employer are creating a medical document of that employee which must be filed in their medical file only. What this means is that you should not post temperatures, announce temperatures, or allow other employees to witness the results of a person’s temperature being taken.

You must also consider where will the temperature be taken. Will it be at the front door of your building? Would you do this in a breakroom? You need to ensure there is social distancing and keep people at least six feet apart if they are standing in line to have their temperatures measured. Are you going to pay employees for the time spent if they must wait in a line? Ideally, you will not have employees line up but have a separate private location available. Employers should measure the employee's temperature and assess symptoms prior to them starting work. Ideally, temperature checks should happen before the individual enters the facility.

Who will administer the temperatures? Have they been trained correctly and are you able to provide that person with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and procedures to keep them safe? A non-medical professional, with proper training, PPE, a no-touch thermometer, and an understanding of confidentiality considerations can take temperatures. You will need to determine who will have this responsibility and may likely have to train multiple people to perform this duty. How will you educate the employee who takes temperatures on how to answer questions from the other employees? If you are fortunate to have an onsite nurse or EMT who can take temperatures, that is ideal.

Temperature checks are not a perfect measure of someone either having or not having the virus. They should be just one of a variety of tools you can use to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Be sure to keep yourself informed of any current changes to the ever-changing world of COVID-19. There is a lot of information and guidance available to everyone and when in doubt, give SDAO a call!

Additional resources:
Oregon BOLI
EEOC