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COVID-19 Tests in the Workplace

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has updated its Technical Assistance Guidance to clarify that employers may administer and/or require COVID-19 testing as a gateway mechanism before allowing employees to return to the workplace without violating the American with Disabilities Act. Screening workers for health risks is one way for businesses to meet their legal responsibility to provide employees with a safe workplace and to potentially isolate employees that carry the virus but are asymptomatic from infecting others. However, as cautioned by the EEOC, testing only confirms whether the virus is currently present. Employees may still acquire the virus after testing, requiring ongoing compliance with the employer's existing infection control practices to protect workers.

The EEOC has approved use of the following screening mechanisms if completed in a manner that is consistent with the EEOC guidance including confidentiality of medical information:

  • Screening for Symptoms: Employers may ask employees entering the workplace about any symptoms identified by public health authorities as associated with COVID-19. For instance, employers may ask employees about fever, cough, shortness of breath, loss of smell or taste, as well as gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Employers must maintain the confidentiality of any notes or documentation related to this screening.

  • COVID-19 Tests: Employers may administer a COVID-19 test (designed to detect the presence of the COVID-19 virus) before permitting employees to enter the workplace without running afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers considering this course of action should review guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concerning safe and accurate testing.

  • Temperature Checks: Employers may require all employees to have a daily temperature check before entering the workplace and may maintain a log of the results. Again, employers must maintain the confidentiality of this medical information.

The utility and permissibility of employers using antibody (or serology) tests is still an open question. The EEOC has not yet spoken to whether such tests are allowable in the workplace.

All medical information about a particular employee, including information relating to COVID-19, should be stored separately from the employee's personnel file, thereby limiting access to this confidential information. However, employers may store medical information related to COVID-19 in existing medical files and need not create a new file system solely for this information.

Employers considering adopting testing procedures should be mindful of the potential for false positives or false negatives and have internal protocols in place for follow up to clear employees to return to the workplace.

© 2023 Varnum LLPNational Law Review, Volume X, Number 115

About this Author

Luis E. Avila Labor Employment Attorney Varnum Law Grand Rapids

Luis focuses his practice on labor, employment and immigration issues. Luis has a wide range of experience in traditional labor matters, including grievances, arbitrations, collective bargaining negotiations, union drives, and matters in front of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC). Luis has counseled employers on a number of workplace matters, including effective employee handbooks and policies, disciplinary and dispute resolution procedures, discrimination, disability accommodation, wage-hour matters, family medical leave, and...

Maureen Rouse-Ayoub Labor Employment Attorney

Maureen represents clients in all areas of labor and employment. She advises clients on labor management relations including union election proceedings, collective bargaining and contract enforcement in arbitration and before the National Labor Relations Board. Maureen defends employment-related claims including discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful discharge, Whistleblowers' and Fair Labor Standards Act violations in federal and state courts, administrative proceedings and arbitration hearings. She counsels clients on drafting, implementation and enforcement of workplace policies....

Stephanie R. Setterington, labor and employment attorney, Varnum

Stephanie advises employers on a wide variety of labor and employment matters, with an emphasis on employment litigation defense, and the identification and development of best practices in the area of human resources. She has worked extensively as labor and employment counsel for publicly-traded and privately-held companies that vary from single-site businesses to multi-state or global entities. She works with each client to ensure compliance with labor and employment-related legal requirements, develop effective human resource operations, and achieve the successful...

Ashleigh E. Draft Associate Grand Rapids Labor & Employment

Ashleigh is an associate attorney currently working with the labor and employment group. She also works with higher education clients and provides support on a variety of litigation matters.

Ashleigh’s experience includes serving as a legal extern for the Michigan Court of Appeals Research Division. She also clerked for Michigan Appeals Court Judge Jane Beckering. Prior to law school, Ashleigh served organizations in the higher education and nonprofit sectors in various development and communications roles.