Mar 19 Employers Taking Employee Temperatures Fraught with Risks
As a Human Resources Consultant with 27 years’ experience in HR for small to medium, privately held businesses, many in Ohio, I have serious concerns about Governor DeWine asking all employers to take employees’ temperatures every day. As of today, this seems to be a request and not a mandate, and I don’t recommend employers follow this request.
Employers have not been given any guidance on how to address this issue properly, both for the employee getting their temperature taken and for the poor employee assigned the role of “temperature taker.” It is the latter where I have major concerns. Nowhere does the Governor address training for workers on how to take a temperature, properly assess the results, and protect the temperature taker from exposure. Without proper training and personal protective equipment such as face masks, eye protection, gloves, and a smock or scrubs, the process would potentially expose all temperature takers to COVID-19 and/or other illnesses someone may have. I don’t believe it’s fair or prudent for employers to put any non-medical, untrained, and unprotected individuals in that situation. The task of taking temperatures could be considered a hazardous working condition under OSHA and result in people refusing to do the work or filing a complaint. OSHA states a worker has the right to refuse to do a task if all of the following conditions are met:*
- Where possible, you have asked the employer to eliminate the danger, and the employer failed to do so; and
- You refused to work in “good faith.” This means that you must genuinely believe that an imminent danger exists; and
- A reasonable person would agree that there is a real danger of death or serious injury; and
- There isn’t enough time, due to the urgency of the hazard, to get it corrected through regular enforcement channels, such as requesting an OSHA inspection.
Also, what if the temperature taker contracts COVID-19 or some other illness and is subsequently hospitalized and/or dies? No person hired in a non-medical capacity at any place of business should be asked to do this task unless they are fully trained and fully protected. It’s not realistic to think Ohio businesses are currently equipped to provide this training and protection, nor could they be so in a short time. It will extremely difficult, if not impossible to obtain thermometers that are deemed reliable given the current situation, let alone adequate supplies of personal protective equipment.
Employers taking employee temperatures goes far beyond the scope of employer responsibilities, is fraught with multiple legal risks, and may not even be effective, as people can have COVID-19 without a fever. If Governor DeWine is wants to prevent people with fevers from going into work, he should recommend another way of addressing it and provide more specific guidance to employers.
I’m strongly recommending to my clients to not take employees’ temperatures. As an alternative, I’m suggesting they ask employees to take their own temperatures at home before coming to work, then signing off on a health survey to verify to their employer that they are either fever free or have a temperature over 100.4 (not providing the actual temperature reading, which is Protected Health Information, by the way) and should be sent home. While this self-check method is not perfect either, I believe it will be almost as equally effective as employers doing it and it eliminates the many concerns I’ve pointed out. If this approach doesn’t significantly reduce the concern for employers, then I am advising the business to close the facility and not have workers come in to work at all.