The coronavirus pandemic has upended household employment and has many families wondering, “When will it be safe to bring employees back into my home?”
Government guidance can shift rapidly, sometimes within the same week. Shelter-in-place orders are gradually being lifted but restrictions may be still in place. Household employees in Massachusetts, for example, were allowed to go back to work this week.
With all this uncertainty, many families may be wondering how they can protect their employees once they’re allowed to return to work in their homes.
Even if the government gives the OK to return, that doesn’t ensure the coronavirus won’t continue to spread. This is causing some families to consider taking employee temperatures as a precaution or as part of a return to work plan.
This post contains guidance primarily from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to help families navigate potential concerns related to taking employee temperatures.
While household employers are not subject to the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), you should observe all applicable emergency workplace safety guidelines. Household employers may be subject to similar rules under applicable state or local laws. Also, the ADA provides some best practices (even if not legal requirements) for household employers to follow.
When may an employer take the body temperature of employees during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Generally, measuring an employee’s body temperature is a medical examination. Because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state/local health authorities have acknowledged community spreading of COVID-19 and issued precautions, employers may measure an employee’s body temperature. However, families should be aware that some people with COVID-19 do not have a fever.
May a family take an applicant’s temperature as part of a post-offer, pre-employment medical exam?
Yes. Any medical exams are permitted after a family has made a conditional offer of employment.
May an employer store in existing medical files information it obtains related to COVID-19, including the results of taking an employee’s temperature or the employee’s self-identification as having this disease, or must the employer create a new medical file system solely for this information?
The ADA requires that all medical information about a particular employee be stored separately from the employee’s personnel file, thus limiting access to this confidential information. An employer may store all medical information related to COVID-19 in existing medical files. This includes an employee’s statement that they have the disease or suspect they have the disease, or the employer’s notes or other documentation from questioning an employee about symptoms. While household employers aren’t subject to the ADA, this may be a good practice to follow.
If an employer requires all employees to have a daily temperature check before entering the workplace, may the employer maintain a log of the results?
Yes. The employer needs to maintain the confidentiality of this information.
As government stay-at-home orders and other restrictions are modified or lifted in your area, how will household employers know what steps they can take to screen employees for COVID-19 when entering their homes?
Household employers can make disability-related inquiries and conduct medical exams if job-related and consistent with business necessity. Inquiries and reliable medical exams meet this standard if it is necessary to exclude employees with a medical condition that would pose a direct threat to health or safety.
Direct threat is to be determined based on the best available objective medical evidence. The guidance from the CDC or other public health authorities is such evidence. Therefore, household employers can implement screening as long as it’s consistent with advice from the CDC and public health authorities for that type of workplace at that time. This may include continuing to take temperatures of employees entering the home and asking questions about symptoms (or requiring self-reporting).
Best Practices for Implementing Temperature Testing
If you decide to conduct employee temperature testing, here are some other tips to keep in mind:
- Communicate the plan to take employee temperatures well in advance and explain why.
- Be sure your employee understands the implications of such a test (i.e., a high temperature means being sent home).
- Have a set temperature threshold and stick to it. For instance, 100.4 F is the CDC’s measurement of a fever. Employers should consider using that as the threshold for when to bar an employee from entering the workplace.
- Consider using no-touch thermometers to avoid spreading illness.
- Ideally, employers will utilize properly trained medical staff or facilitators to administer the temperature checks.
- Make sure you’re checking temperatures far enough from the entrance to your home.
- Maintain proper disinfecting procedures within your home.
The coronavirus pandemic, like every other hardship, will eventually pass. By implementing strategies to create a safe workplace, you can help reduce the spread of the virus and enjoy a more engaged and productive employee.
GTM can help
Have any questions about how the health crisis is affecting household employment such as unemployment insurance and paid sick leave requirements? Give us a call at (800) 929-9213 for a complimentary, no-obligation consultation with a household employment expert.