With new protocols and processes being established across all businesses, there are questions about what sort of employee health information you can and should collect.
Fortunately, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has shared several guidelines on what details you can ask for during a pandemic.
Much of the information being requested by employers concerns the direct threat of COVID-19 and reducing risk to employees and customers. This includes rapidly identifying signs and symptoms of the Coronavirus, for example: fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, loss of smell or taste, or sore throat.
Employers may ask employees who report feeling ill at work, or who call in sick, questions about their symptoms to determine if they may have COVID-19. Asking these questions helps your team know when to contact their doctor (before showing up at their office), or to reach out to their local or state health department for recommendations.
Additionally, employees who return from travel (business or personal) may be asked about the location they visited, specifically regarding exposure during the trip. The team members may even be asked to remain at home for several days until it is clear they do not have symptoms, based on CDC or state/local public health guidelines.
One very important distinction is for employees who are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employers may not ask ADA-covered staff who do not have symptoms to disclose whether they have a medical condition that the CDC says could make them especially vulnerable.
If an employee voluntarily discloses (without a disability-related prompt) that they have a specific medical condition or disability that puts them at increased risk of complications, the employer must keep this information confidential.
Generally speaking, measuring an employee’s body temperature is a medical examination. However, because the CDC and state/local health authorities have acknowledged community spread of COVID-19, employers may measure employees’ body temperature.
As with all medical information, the fact that an employee had a fever or other symptoms would be subject to ADA confidentiality requirements.
Another important precaution to reduce risk is to provide PPE to your employees and establish new sanitation processes.
These procedures may be completely new to your team members, especially as many people may have not worn a mask or gloves previously. These steps are vital to reduce exposure points and provide reassurance to your staff and customers.
Employers can require infection control practices, such as regular hand washing, coughing and sneezing etiquette, and proper tissue usage and disposal.
An employer may also require employees to wear personal protective equipment during a pandemic.
However, when an employee with a disability needs a related reasonable accommodation under the ADA (non-latex gloves, gowns designed for individuals who use wheelchairs, etc), the employer should provide these items.
There may be times where an employee does not show symptoms of COVID-19 during a screening at the start of a workday, but goes on to develop symptoms during their shift.
Anyone who comes down with symptoms while at work should leave the workplace, according to the CDC. This means an employer can send home an employee with COVID-19 symptoms. The same goes for sending employees home who display symptoms during a pre-shift health screening.
It is important to communicate any new procedures and protocols with your team, including your plans for collecting employee health information. Checklists, employee health screenings, and waivers are great ways to share and enforce new precautions to protect your staff and customers.
These methods can also protect you and your business in the event you need to provide documentation that an employee has completed a checklist, signed a waiver, or participated in an employee health screening.
These are challenging times with so much to take in and consider. Keeping team members informed of changing precautions and ensuring they follow best practices will help you reduce employee risk and promote the safety of your team and customers.