Q: Can we make it mandatory for employees to be tested for COVID-19?
A: The simple answer is that in most cases, yes you can, and if a worker refuses, you may decline to allow them to work. What follows is a more complete, complicated answer.
We've seen references to testing as a screening strategy for allowing someone onsite, but primarily from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding when it is advisable to discontinue isolation after a COVID diagnosis.
And even there, testing is one of several approaches, since testing is not yet universally and readily available.
In the absence of ready access to testing, there are other CDC recommended symptom-based criteria:
- 72 hours fever-free without mitigating medication
- diminishing symptoms
- at least 10 days have passed since the onset of symptoms
For all other contexts, including as a regular/daily screening strategy for returning/reporting to work, we think testing is not a practical approach for a number of reasons: availability of tests, costs, accuracy of results, delay in reporting results, and the limited time period that test results remain relevant.
A more suitable, affordable, and practical strategy for day-to-day monitoring of employee health is temperature taking and a brief health/symptom screen.
While temperature taking is not as simple as it may seem, it can be implemented with some proper training and protocols regarding devices used, PPE, recordkeeping, interpreting results, and confidentiality standards.
Additionally, because the list of COVID suspected symptoms has expanded over time, it is prudent to monitor the latest guidance from the CDC,
It is also wise to keep in mind that health professionals have indicated that symptoms may appear two-14 days after exposure to the virus, so while all this effort may be worthwhile, it is not foolproof!