A HR Guide to Screening Employees for COVID-19

By Timerack

November 20, 2020

As employees return to the workplace, HR Managers have their work cut out even more so than usual. 

Like every facet of life right now, coronavirus looms large over the workplace. And as workplaces reopen, businesses are having to ensure they make their premises COVID-secure. 

That’s why regularly screening employees for COVID-19 symptoms is an important practice that all businesses should consider. That being said, there’s a mountain of information and misinformation about the correct way to do this. That’s why we’ve written the HR Guide to Screening Employees for COVID-19

– In this guide, we’ll cover:

– Getting your workplace COVID-secure

– Why Setup COVID Symptom Screening?

– Who Should You Screen?

– How to Screen Employees for COVID-19

– Temperature Checks, Questionnaires, or Both?

– On Site or Off Site Screening?

– Practicalities of Screening

– How Often Should You Screen Employees and Visitors?

– What Questions Should You Ask?

– What to Do If an Employee Doesn’t Pass the Screening Process?

– Laws and Regulations to be Aware Of

Getting Your Workplace COVID-Secure

Before setting up a coronavirus symptom screening regimem for your employees, you need to ensure your workplace is COVID-secure. Follow closely the CDC guidance, as well as any specific federal or state laws that apply to your industry.

The CDC resuming business toolkit provides an essential checklist for all types of businesses. We’ve also produced a number of employer guides including:

The 10 Step COVID-19 Return to the Workplace Safety Checklist

How to keep your office COVID-secure   

Why Setup COVID Symptom Screening?

A common question among employers is “should we be screening employees for COVID-19 Symptoms?

The CDC or other government bodies have not mandated screening, which means it’s optional for employers. However, there are a number of clear benefits to screening employees for COVID-19 symptoms, as it can help to:

– Reduce the transmission of the virus, which can help to maintain a healthy workforce and customer base.

– Strengthen contact tracing efforts, should employees contract the virus.

– Reduce employer liability and aid the efforts of businesses providing a safe work environment in this regard.

– Provide added peace of mind to employees, visitors and customers, encouraging them to enter the premises. 

However, while screening has clear benefits, it’s not 100% effective at stopping the transmission of the virus within the workplace. This is because employees that are asymptomatic may pass symptom screening checks. Also, screening should not be used as a replacement for other COVID workplace safety measures, it should only be used as an addition to your other measures.   

Who Should You Screen?

There are no specific guidelines for this, however, the following is a suggested common sense approach for businesses.

For non-customer facing workplaces, such as offices and manufacturing centers you should screen anyone that passes a physical threshold, such as the reception area, and/or spends any significant amount of time on the premises.

This include:

– All employees working from the premises

– Visitors such as clients or contractors

– For visitors with very limited on-premises contact time, it’s more practical to develop protocols that limit person-to-person interactions and time spent on the premises, rather than screening them. For example, delivery workers can perform contactless deliveries by leaving items outside.

– For customer facing workplaces, such as stores and restaurants, anyone entering a non-public section of the workplace should be screened.

How to Screen Employees for COVID-19

You need to decide the form of screening that’s most appropriate for your business and how best to implement this. 

Temperature Checks, Questionnaires, or Both?

COVID symptom screening can take the form of temperature checks, questionnaires, or both. Again, there is no specific guidance from the CDC on what form of screening a business should use. States may have their own specific guidance here, so check the relevant guidelines in your state.

If your state hasn’t issued specific guidelines on the use of temperature checks, then whether you include this in your screening regime is a decision you need to make. 

Temperature checks are objective, but there remains a lot of debate over the effectiveness of this, as it will not detect asymptomatic carriers. If you choose to use temperature checks, you will also need to set up safety measures for the people administering the temperature checks.

Also – be aware that different states have different thresholds on what temperatures are considered to be a COVID risk, so be sure to check this.

Questionnaires also run the risk of not detecting asymptomatic carriers, however, they can screen for other symptoms that temperature checks will miss.  

On Site or Off Site Screening? 

Employees can be screened either on site or off site.

Off site screening

Off site screening is usually conducted via a questionnaire on a mobile app or website. Employees can complete this before entering the premises, and the employer has a real time audit trail of every employee screening.  

Conducting screening off site can be safer than on site, as it avoids staff congregating together at the building entrance as they wait to be screened. It’s also much more private for employees than on site screening. 

On site screening

On site screening will require careful organization of physical space, to accommodate employees being screened, to provide privacy and to protect the person conducting the screening. 

Conducting screening on site can however offer a more robust solution, as it prevents anyone from slipping through the cracks. And if you’re choosing to do temperature checks, then the most practical way to do this is with on site screening. 

Practicalities of Screening

Follow best practices when conducting employee COVID-19 symptom screening, especially if you’re conducting on site screening. This should include: 

– For on site screening, in order to protect the screeners you should use social distancing, barriers or walls, or PPE (personal protective equipment). Although be mindful of the fact that PPE can be difficult to find and users need to be trained in using it. 

– The screeners will be handling confidential information, so carefully consider who are the most appropriate members of staff to perform this function.

– Again, for on site screening, position the screening stations in a way that prevents overcrowding. A simple way to do this is by offering more than one screening entrance into the building, having separate exits, and by staggering start times.

– For off site screening, decide which members of staff are responsible for tracking screening submissions and for ensuring employees complete this.

– Again for off site screening, develop a process whereby visitors are sent a link to the screening tool prior to their arrival. 

– Clearly communicate the screening process with all employees and welcome an open dialogue within the company.

– In order to prevent stigma and discrimination, try to make staff screening as private as you can.   

– Keep employee’s medical status and history confidential, and ensure only pre-approved members of staff have access to this information.

– Keep a record of the symptom screening results for each employee and visitor for at least 28 days.

For further guidance on this, read the CDC’s General Business Frequently Asked Questions

How Often Should You Screen Employees and Visitors?

Screen all employees and visitors at the beginning of each shift or visit. 

What Questions Should You Ask? 

The US Chamber of Commerce has put together a standardized employee COVID-19 screening questionnaire which is a good jumping off point for many businesses. 

The CDC has also provided guidance, advising businesses to include the following symptoms in their screening questionnaires: 

– Fever or feeling feverish (chills, sweating)

– New cough

– Difficulty breathing

– Sore throat

– Muscle aches or body aches

– Vomiting or diarrhea

– New loss of taste or smell

Read our guide to writing an Employee COVID-19 Questionnaire Template for more information on this subject.

What to Do If An Employee Doesn’t Pass the Screening Process?

The protocol to follow if an employee doesn’t pass the screening process will differ depending on whether it’s an on site or off site screening.

For off site screenings – the employee should be told to stay at home and follow the public health advice within their jurisdiction, with regards to how and when to get tested for coronavirus. 

For on site screenings – do not let the employee enter the workplace, and ensure they are socially distanced from others. If they need to collect any personal belongings, arrange for someone else to gather these for them. 

If they did not arrive by car or on foot, help with transport arrangements home if required. They should then follow the public health advice within their jurisdiction, with regards to how and when to get tested for coronavirus. 

The employee should only return to the workplace once they’ve received a negative COVID test result, or after 14 days, whichever is sooner. If they receive a positive coronavirus test, then you will need to instigate your procedure to inform others that may have come into contact with them.

Laws and Regulations to be Aware Of

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has published guidance on how to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act and other laws, when screening employees.    

The Bottom Line

Screening employees for COVID-19 symptoms can appear complex at first glance. However, once you’ve decided on a process that fits your business, it shouldn’t be any more complex than other time and attendance processes you already have within the company. 



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