Employers that are still open at this time have been wondering if they may be violating their employees’ rights to medical privacy by scanning their temperatures before they enter the facility.

In many countries in Europe and Asia, employers have been scanning every customer and employee that enters their premises, and if they are running a fever they are asked to not go in. With the risk of infection and spread running high, it’s in the employer’s best interest to reduce chances of transmission in the workplace, but the fear of being sued may dissuade them from doing it.

Now the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued guidance that authorizes employers to measure employees’ body temperature, even though it’s considered a “medical exam,” which would typically be off limits under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It said the ADA does not prevent employers from following the guidelines and suggestions made by the Centers for Disease Control or other health authorities.

The guidance is based on a publication the EEOC produced during the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.

The agency also said that employers can ask workers who call in sick if they are experiencing symptoms of a pandemic virus, so as to protect the rest of its workforce during a pandemic. But the employer must keep that information confidential, as it must with all medical information under the ADA.

In addition, the ADA does not prevent employers from following advice that “employees who become ill with symptoms of COVID-19 should leave the workplace,” the EEOC said.

Employers can also require that an employee who is returning to work after recovering from COVID-19 have a doctor’s certificate, under the ADA. That’s because the inquiry would not be considered related to a bona fide disability, and during a pandemic it would be justified under ADA standards for disability-related inquiries, the EEOC explained.

Screening of job applicants

In terms of hiring, employers are authorized to screen applicants for COVID-19 symptoms, under the guidance. It must do so for “all entering employees in the same type of job.” That includes being allowed to take an applicant’s temperature “as part of a post-offer, pre-employment medical exam.”

Employers are also allowed to delay a start date for a job applicant who exhibits COVID-19 symptoms. An employer can withdraw a job offer if it needs an applicant to start immediately but the applicant has COVID-19 or its symptoms.

TIP: The best way to check temperatures is by using a thermometer gun, which are easy to use and can be purchased for less than $100 online.

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