Across the country, many businesses are taking steps to slowly reopen. But as they do, employers are having to determine how they can keep everyone safe while staying in compliance with reopening guidelines. Part of this process includes testing employees for COVID-19.
The EEOC and CDC Weigh in on Employee Testing
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers are permitted to test returning employees for COVID-19 before allowing them back into the workplace since an infected employee constitutes a direct threat to others. However, the Commission warns that employers must be strategic about testing and have an established protocol for what to do when a worker tests positive.
Findings by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that employers still have a lot of questions about how to implement testing. To help, the CDC outlines five situations in which testing might be appropriate. They include:
- Employees who are showing symptoms. If a temperature check shows that a worker has a fever, he/she should be quarantined and sent to a healthcare facility for testing. Other employees who may have come in contact with that worker should also be tested and sent home to quarantine pending test results.
- Employees who have been exposed to the virus. A worker who has knowingly been exposed should be immediately quarantined and tested several days after the exposure as the virus may not yet be detectable. Until test results are received, the employee should remain quarantined.
- Employees who have recovered. Employers are allowed to retest once-infected employees before they return to work. However, the CDC warns about tests that could detect residual traces of the virus even after an employee has fully recovered and shows no symptoms. An alternative to retesting an employee could be a time-based approach to discontinuing home isolation, such as allowing an employee to return to work 14 days from the exposure.
- When it’s necessary to evaluate protective measures. If employers find that the business continues to struggle with a high rate of infections, they can implement a type of surveillance program to determine possible transmission hot spots. However, the CDC warns that this is an undertaking that should only be done if there is a reasonable likelihood that this type of testing will benefit workers in helping to keep them from becoming infected.
- Businesses in industries where there is a high transmission rate. The CDC warns that mass testing of asymptomatic employees without known or suspected exposure requires that employers have a plan for how they will modify operations based on test results and manage a higher risk of false-positive results.
In addition, employees undergoing testing should receive clear information regarding:
- The manufacturer and name of the test; the type, purpose, reliability, and limitations associated with the test; who will pay for the testing; and where it will be performed.
- How to understand the results and actions associated with negative or positive results, who will receive the results, how the results may be used and any consequences for declining to be tested. The CDC also states that employees should receive patient fact sheets as part of the test’s emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.
According to the CDC, these recommended testing strategies should be implemented as a supplement to other federal, state, and local health and safety laws applicable to the workplace and not as a replacement for other legal requirements. It also notes that any testing should be carried out in a manner consistent with applicable employment laws, including with respect to employee privacy and confidentiality, and in accordance with published guidance from the EEOC.
Worldwide Facilities is committed to assisting our retail brokers during this uncertain time. As a resource, we’re here to help address workers’ compensation issues that can impact businesses and employees so you and your clients can gain an understanding of COVID-19 to better safeguard the workplace.
For more information, please contact Todd Pollock at 508-625-3547 or firstname.lastname@example.org.