The evolving COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for businesses, not least of which is helping to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among their employees and the larger community. Recognizing these risks, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is allowing employers to conduct temperature screenings of employees as they arrive for work in areas where the state or local health authority has declared widespread transmission of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Because the COVID-19 outbreak continues to evolve, the EEOC advises employers “to continue to follow the most current information on maintaining workplace safety.”1
Fever: A key symptom of COVID-19
Fever is one of the three most common symptoms of COVID-19, together with coughing and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).2 Fever is defined as a temperature reading of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38.0 degrees Celsius) or higher from an oral thermometer or the less-invasive temporal artery thermometer (also known as an infrared digital or a forehead thermometer).
Temperature screenings are most conclusive when someone hasn’t taken medications that may reduce fever (e.g., acetaminophen, such as Tylenol; ibuprofen, such as Motrin or Advil; or aspirin); the same is true when assessing other symptoms (e.g., cough suppressants that mask severity).
It’s important to remember that coronavirus-related symptoms – fever, coughing and shortness of breath – may not appear until 2 to 14 days after exposure to COVID-19.2 It’s also important to note that body temperature measurements may not be conclusive. Some people with COVID-19 will not have a fever. And, as mentioned earlier, other individuals may intentionally or unintentionally suppress fevers by taking fever-reducing medications.
Guidance for taking temperatures at the workplace
For businesses that decide to conduct temperature screenings, it is recommended that they do so in a manner that is consistent with social distancing policies established by the CDC and, with respect to employee confidentiality, does not reveal the thermometer reading to other employees. In other words, temperatures should be taken individually in a private space and employees should wait in a line that allows them to be spaced 6 feet apart. (Another alternative that promotes both social distancing and confidentiality is, when feasible, to take temperatures while employees are in their cars.)
The CDC offers no recommendations on the use of personal protective equipment for those who are taking employees’ temperatures. These individuals may or may not be healthcare professionals. Generally speaking, the types of personal protective equipment required are based on the risk of being infected with the virus while working and the job tasks that may lead to exposure. Personnel taking temperature screenings should, at a minimum, follow standard precautions of good hand hygiene and respiratory/coughing etiquette. They also should wear personal protective equipment – gowns, gloves and face masks – specific to exposure to COVID-19.
With that in mind, employers who do choose to conduct temperature screenings should also consider these practical considerations from the CDC2:
- Personnel taking temperatures should have the requisite knowledge to do so and to accurately assess the results.
- Thermometers should be properly disinfected between uses.
- There should be a clear understanding of what will be deemed an elevated temperature.
- Employees who appear to have symptoms (i.e., fever, cough or shortness of breath) upon arrival at work or who become sick during the day should immediately be separated from other employees, customers and visitors and sent home.
- When an employee’s temperature is found to be elevated, it should be treated as confidential employee medical information and remain protected while employers act on that information to protect the health and safety of others in the workplace. It may be prudent to keep documentation of the actual temperature readings for any employees who are sent home due to a high temperature.
- If an employee has a fever and reports symptoms, such as cough or difficulty breathing, they should be directed to call their healthcare provider for medical advice. If they develop emergency medical symptoms (e.g., trouble breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, etc.) while at work, medical attention should be sought immediately.
What employees should do if they experience COVID-19 symptoms
Employees experiencing any cold or flu symptoms should stay home and notify their supervisor. If an employee has taken a fever-reducing medication (e.g., acetaminophen, such as Tylenol; ibuprofen, such as Motrin or Advil; or aspirin) or any other symptom-altering medications (e.g., Dayquil, Mucinex, etc.) to combat symptoms of a cold or flu, they also should not come to work.
Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and not come to work until the CDC criteria
to discontinue home isolation are met, in consultation with their healthcare providers and state and local health departments.
Visit Zurich’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Hub
About the author:
Krishna Lynch is Senior Healthcare Risk Engineering Consultant for the Healthcare Professional Liability practice group at Zurich North America. Read more here
1 “What You Should Know About the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and COVID-19.” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
. 19 March 2020.
2 “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).
” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 22 March 2020.
Additional resource for businesses
.” Safety and Health Topics. Occupational Health and Safety Administration. U.S. Department of Labor.