As states continue to ease and, in some cases, lift stay-at-home orders, you are likely looking ahead to a day when your employees are back at the office working and interacting with each other. Before face-to-face meetings and water-cooler talk can resume, businesses must think strategically about how to reenter the workplace safely, and Smart HR is here to help. If you read last week’s blog, you have assembled your Pandemic Response Team (PRT) and started working on your PRT objectives. If you missed last week’s blog, take a moment to read it here. This week’s blog will focus on PRT objectives 4 – 6: Employee health screenings, policies pertaining to COVID-19 positive employees and policies concerning visitors to the workplace. The following is for informational and planning purposes only and does not replace legal advice.
Employee Health Screenings
The EEOC has provided guidance on workplace screenings now considered lawful amid the COVID-19 crisis. Following are some highlights you need to consider when planning for a return to work.
As a condition of entering the workplace, you may mandate COVID-19 testing as part of a screening process for employees without violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Some considerations:
- You must make sure the test is accurate, safe and reliable. The FDA has issued guidance on reliable testing.
- It’s important to note that even if an employee tests negative, the employee may still contract the virus after taking the test.
- As with any other medical information, testing results must remain confidential.
- You need to consider how to handle an employee’s refusal to submit to a test and may bar entry in such circumstances.
- Be aware there may be an obligation under wage and hour laws to pay employees for time spent waiting to be tested and for the results, assuming the employee will not be admitted to the workplace until you have the results.
- You should require employee written consent to the screening that acknowledges the test is not a diagnostic test.
- The testing must be administered and conducted in a non-discriminatory manner.
- You should continue to monitor for new testing guidance and requirements related to testing that may be forthcoming in your state and local government orders.
You may measure the body temperature of employees and visitors who physically enter the workplace and maintain the information obtained in a log provided the log remains confidential. Some considerations:
- You should have a trained nurse or medical professional take temperatures or train other staff to do so. If the later, the training should be documented in writing.
- The temperature taker should use equipment that requires no direct contact between the temperature taker and the employees. Scanners that can measure temperature remotely are ideal. Forehead scanners also minimize the amount of contact.
- If conducting temperature screenings to gain building access, create corridors with multiple lines to prevent crowding. Consider using tape to demarcate six-foot lengths for social distancing while in line.
- The CDC states that a fever for COVID-19 purposes is any temperature at 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit/38 degrees Celsius or higher.
- Discreetly notify any employee with a fever that he/she cannot enter the premises and must quarantine at home for 14 days.
Employee Health Questionnaires
You may ask all employees entering the workplace questions to determine 1) if they have or may have COVID-19 2) whether they have or have had COVID-19 symptoms and 3) if they’ve been tested for COVID-19. Some considerations:
- The EEOC states you should refrain from asking employees whether they have a family member who has had COVID-19 or exhibits symptoms. Instead, you may ask if the employee has had contact with anyone who has tested positive or has virus symptoms.
- All questionnaires must be kept confidential and separate from an employee’s personnel file.
- Many states have issued mandates concerning the use of employee health questionnaires particularly for “high risk” employers in the food and entertainment industries.
Policy/Protocol for COVID-19 Positive/Suspected Employees
The PRT should ensure a clear policy is in place concerning employees who become ill at work presenting COVID-19 symptoms and for employees who test positive for COVID-19. You should designate an employee as the Isolation Coordinator who is responsible for managing a situation with a possible/positive COVID-19 employee. Ideally, the Isolation Coordinator should be chosen from among the following: doctors, nurses, human resources manager, emergency/first aid team leader or health/safety leader.
If an employee becomes ill at work and is presenting with COVID-19 symptoms, the Isolation Coordinator should:
- Direct the employee to the isolation room which is separate from an infirmary and should only be used in cases of suspected virus contagion.
- Provide the employee with a protective mask and nitrile gloves to protect other employees and prevent the spread of a potential virus.
- Wear a protective mask and nitrile gloves.
- Call the local health authority or medical office seeking advice regarding transporting the employee to a medical facility if needed.
- Direct the employee to leave work and either go home or to the nearest health center as advised by the local health authority.
- Arrange transportation. If possible, the employee should drive him/herself. If needed, a PRT team member can transport the employee while wearing a protective mask and gloves during the entire trip, removing and disposing of both properly afterwards.
- Ensure PRT team member vehicle is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
- Work with human resources to determine employees who may have come in contact with the possibly infected employee.
- Advise employees of their potential contact with an infected employee without divulging the employee’s name. Ask the employees to perform self-screening for symptoms every morning and provide human resources information on symptoms present.
- Ensure that both the isolation area and possibly infected employee’s workstation or office is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
- Keep company management with a need-to-know, apprised of the situation.
If you have an employee who is COVID-19 positive, the CDC recommends you inform coworkers of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You should instruct the employee’s coworkers on how to proceed based on the CDC Public Health Recommendations for Community-Related Exposure.
The CDC also states you should not require a positive COVID-19 test result or a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick to validate their illness, qualify for sick leave, or to return to work. Healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely manner.
Policy/Protocol for Visitors/Clients
You need to determine whether you will allow visitors/clients to the workplace, and if so, what restrictions should be in place. Here are some screening/safety considerations:
- Depending on your industry, you may decide only visitors/clients essential to your business operations are allowed onsite for the foreseeable future.
- You could limit the number of visitors at any time and/or only allow them entry to certain floors or rooms.
- You could require visitors/clients who have been granted access to complete a COVID-19 screening form prior to entry. If you collect information or forms from visitors, you should establish protocols for collecting and maintaining that information including measures to protect personal information.
- To protect visitor privacy, you should post your screening policies in a clearly visible entry area.
- Clearly communicate to employees your policy on workplace visitors before employees return to the workplace.
Be Smart and Contact Smart HR
As you read Smart HR’s blog series Strategic Approach to Reopening Businesses, you see, as so many in the media are saying, you cannot just “flip a switch” and reopen businesses. It requires thoughtful planning. As you work through your reopening, remember that Smart HR is here to help. You may need help with a small project like developing COVID-19 health screening questionnaires for employees and visitors or with a larger project like drafting and communicating COVID-19-related policies. No matter your issue, Smart HR can help.