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Protecting the health and safety of employees during the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak is essential to ensure the spread of the virus is stopped and it does not spread within the workplace. A single employee that becomes infected and reports to work can easily spread the virus to their coworkers before they realize they are sick.
In order to address this issue, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued updated guidance for employers considering screening and testing protocols for employees and job applicants. The EEOC guidance explains what precautionary measures are now permissible under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The practical implications of ensuring worker safety requires consideration of what actions a company is going to take in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has a choice in that it can rely upon its employees to self-report if they start experiencing symptoms of infection such as fever, cough, difficulty breathing, and diarrhea. The other choice would be to start screening employees prior to them reporting to work. The screening can involve taking their temperature and asking them along with observations to see if they are experiencing any symptoms.
If such a program were to be implemented, a screening area should be set up to keep employees at least 6 feet apart while they are waiting to be screened. Hourly employees need to be allowed to clock in and get paid during the screening process. It is important to protect the person or people doing the screening. The screeners can be provided with a digital thermometer and need to be provided the proper personal protective equipment that includes gloves, masks, face shields, and gowns, or other protective clothing. This is because they could have the highest potential exposure.
If an employee has an elevated temperature which according to the CDC, is 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher or exhibits the other symptoms, they should be sent home and told to contact their medical provider. If an employee experiences any of the symptoms during the work day or calls in sick and reports that they are experiencing symptoms, they should be sent home, if at work, and held off on returning to work until they have passed a 14-day self-quarantine period without exhibiting symptoms. Another option would be to require a doctor’s release or a documented negative COVID-19 test.