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Employers developing guidelines for testing workers for COVID-19

Posted at 7:34 PM, Aug 05, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control has issued new guidance for employers, giving them various situations they may come across and how they should decide to test their employees for COVID-19.

"There's a lot of different questions coming out from employers about the whole process of testing, doing temperature taking of employees who are returning back to work again," says Amber Clayton, the knowledge center director at the Society for Human Resources Management.

Clayton says employers are grappling with increased uncertainty surrounding how and when to implement coronavirus testing at their offices.

"Employers can have a policy in place. Per the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission they can test during this pandemic so they could require COVID testing. Now, antibody testing can’t be mandated but COVID testing can," says Clayton.

The CDC recommends, in most cases, to only test employees who are showing symptoms.

But what if a person knows they've been exposed to the virus but isn't showing symptoms, is a test appropriate?

"I think it may be on a case by case basis. So, if it is positive, I think it's probably helpful. It tells you the person did in fact become infected," says Dr. Beth Thielen, an infectious disease doctor with the University of Minnesota.

Dr. Thielen says employers should be careful, though, as employees who aren't showing symptoms could have a false negative if they test too early, before the virus spreads in the person's system.

"The CDC guidance still indicates if someone tests positive for COVID before they return back to work, they should be quarantined and out of work for at least 10 days, that they don't have a fever or they've they have gone without a fever for 24 hours or without fever reducing medications," says Clayton.

Employers can ask employees who have gotten a positive COVID-19 test to take a second test, showing they're negative before returning to work, but the CDC doesn't recommend it and says in their guidelines, "Employees with COVID-19 who have stayed home can stop home isolation and return to work when they have met one of the sets of criteria.”

Some of that criteria includes 10 days passing since the employee last experienced any COVID-19 symptoms.

Dr. Thielen says, this recommendation makes sense.

"We haven’t detected people who have had culturable virus out as far as 14 days after," says Dr. Thielen. She adds, so far, studies have found that most people who still test positive weeks alter won't transmit the virus to others. She believes employers should continue to look to the CDC for guidance.

"I think these are some of our leading public health thinkers and they’re making decisions based on a long history of experience based on dealing with other respiratory infections but also newly emerging data," says Dr. Thielen.

As for Clayton, she says employers will want to ensure the confidentiality of employees who do test positive while at the same time notifying others who may have been exposed. And also, do some research or consult legal counsel before implementing any testing at the office.

"Or if you have situations where employees refuse to be tested maybe for medical reasons, those things tend to fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act sometimes, so make sure you’re doing your homework before you implement any type of testing program," says Clayton.