How—and If—Companies Are Implementing Temperature Checks

By Katie Navarra May 29, 2020

Monitoring employee health is a "new normal" as businesses are being asked to help reduce the spread of and exposure to the coronavirus. There is no playbook for conducting daily wellness checks, and different employers are taking different approaches. Fever is one symptom of COVID-19, so some employers are requiring employees to take their own temperatures and report the results, while others plan to take employee temperatures at worksites.

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Coronavirus and COVID-19

And some have chosen a third option. Albany, N.Y.-based accounting firm Teal, Becker & Chiaramonte will ask employees to respond to a short questionnaire. Terry Kremer, director of human resources, conducted roundtables and called each of the firm's 100 employees individually before making the decision.

[Read here for information on testing employees for antibodies to COVID-19.] 

Conversations with staff revealed they were more concerned with hand sanitizing, social distancing and mask wearing, so the firm has focused on preventive measures to make employees feel comfortable and confident in coming to work. This approach satisfies staff and complies with the state's safety plan template.

Onsite Temperature Screening

Some organizations are establishing procedures for daily temperature screening as part of ensuring the health of all employees. It has been challenging.

"Generally speaking, employers consider 100.4 [degrees Fahrenheit] or above as a 'high' temperature," said John Bagyi, Esq., SHRM-SCP.

The Bond, Schoeneck & King partner points to that metric as just one way the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has defined a fever.

Bagyi says he has worked with clients who are implementing onsite screenings and has advised them to consider:

  • That temperatures should be read in the least invasive way possible. Ideally, employers should purchase devices such as no-contact thermometers that can register temperature without exposure to bodily fluids.
  • That the individual assigned to check temperatures onsite must be trained. He or she will need to understand how to read the device, the need for confidentiality and how to disinfect the device between employees. The individual also must be trained in protocols from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on using personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • That nonexempt employees must be paid for time spent being and waiting to be screened.

Absent guidance or specific requirements concerning temperature checks from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the CDC and OSHA, Bagyi said, "it would be advisable to treat temperature test administrators as a high/very high exposure risk. They will be in close proximity to a large number of workers, some of whom could be infectious. Employers should therefore ensure that those who administer the temperature screening have appropriate PPE."

Self-Reporting Temperature

At the New York State Bar Association, employees will be asked to download an app where they will enter their temperature and respond to questions about recent travel to international or domestic hot spots, any respiratory symptoms they are experiencing, and whether they are caring for or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, according to Paula Doyle, the organization's senior director of human resources. The association is also working on a backup plan for a dedicated staff person to collect the same information.

The answers to the questions will be sent to a confidential e-mail address that only HR has access to, Doyle said. The organization has a staff of about 95 and plans to develop schedules that ensure only 40 percent of the staff is onsite at any given time.

"How the process is being handled [confidentially] will be explained in the Reopening Policies and Procedures Statement that will be distributed to all staff," she said. "These are the plans currently being worked on. Many have been finalized, but not all."

Data Collection and Protection

Taking employee temperatures is only part of the equation. What happens to that information? An employer's obligations in this regard may vary from state to state. However, Bagyi said treating this information as confidential medical information and providing proper safeguards to protect it is essential.

"Employers should ensure the information concerning employees' temperatures is safeguarded as medical information and not shared with anyone who does not have a need to know," Bagyi said.

Listening to Staff

Employees may be feeling nervous about having their temperature checked or reporting to work. Whether workers are staying home or coming into the workplace, Kremer recommends communicating with them.

"You want your staff to feel like you're supporting them and listening to them without putting any pressure on them," he said. "They want to see that you're taking their concerns into account when you're developing these policies."

Katie Navarra is a freelance writer in New York state.



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