Ask HR: Can My Company Require Temperature Checks?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP June 5, 2020
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Ask HR: Can My Company Require Temperature Checks?

​Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP

SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today. The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.


Question: My company is starting conversations about returning to work. One of the stipulations is that we get a temperature screening before we come into the office each day. Isn't this an invasion of health privacy? If I feel fine, why should I be subjected to a screening? —Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: In short, yes, your employer can require temperature screenings during this outbreak. That said, here's the longer answer.

Ordinarily, taking employee temperatures would be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, these are extraordinary times.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued guidance that allows organizations to ask employees if they've experienced symptoms associated with COVID-19 and to check their temperatures. In fact, some states have mandated that employers check employee temperatures every day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 has an incubation period of up to 14 days. This means even if you feel fine, you could be unknowingly spreading the virus to the people around you for as long as two weeks. Catching an elevated temperature early on mitigates that risk.

While I'm no doctor, I do know employers are obliged to ensure the workplace is reasonably safe. Temperature screenings, whether done at work or by employees at home, can be an important precaution to protect workers and the workplace. While it is a departure from normalcy, this measure—like face masks, hand washing and social distancing—is intended to protect the health of both the workforce and the public.

My view, however, is we're all adults. If you wake up feeling sick or exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19 (e.g., fever, coughing, shortness of breath) as described by the CDC, trust your gut and stay home.

I know some of these measures may seem bothersome. But they are sensible steps that can give employees peace of mind and help us all return to work swiftly and safely.


Question: As a furloughed employee, I would like to know if my company has to let me know when they'll bring me back to work? —Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Good question, though I'm sorry to say employers are not required to provide furloughed employees with a precise return date.

This answer might be disappointing. But with 52 percent of U.S. employers having changed employee hours or furloughed or laid off workers to reduce costs during the pandemic, you're certainly not alone. And, given the novelty of this new normal, it is understandable. Much remains uncertain—and especially so for certain industries and organizations.

However, I will add this: Although your employer may be unable to give you a concrete return date, it should be consistently communicating with you and providing regular updates.

If you feel left out of the loop, reach out to HR and ask when you might expect to return to work. That said, don't be surprised if HR is unable to provide a date yet or if it provides a date that is subject to change.

Remember: Companies want to get back to business as usual, too. However, there may be certain state or federal guidelines restricting or inhibiting an employer's ability to resume operations and bring workers back.

Ultimately, your return to work will be determined by details I don't have, such as where you live, what you do and what industry you work in. While this may be a global pandemic, its impact plays out locally. So, certain communities and sectors may expect a quicker recovery than others.

Consider your situation carefully. If you suspect a long wait before being recalled, it might be wise to begin searching for a new job now. (See my advice on landing a new gig after being furloughed due to COVID-19 in a previous column.) Alternatively, if you feel your job is worth the wait, you could apply for unemployment benefits during your furlough.

I hope your wait isn't too long. Stay well!

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