Why is employee screening needed for a successful return to work program?
PPE, disinfecting, and social distancing all contribute to a healthier workplace. This blog focuses on adding employee screening.
Employers should follow the “swiss cheese” model where each layer of protection adds more safety. No one solution can fill all the holes where businesses face risk. Adding multiple protection tools or “swiss cheese slices” covers these holes. Following this model allows you to create a strong pandemic defense for your return to work program (1).
Employee health screenings ensure only employees who meet your return to work criteria are at the workplace. Additional layers also include contact tracing, surveillance testing, and vaccine tracking. Contact tracing stops forward transmission and surveillance testing catches asymptomatic silent spread. Finally, vaccine tracking allows you to know when you’ve reached herd immunity. A comprehensive workplace safety solution should integrate all of these tools.
Employee Screening Guidelines and Requirements
The CDC recommends that employers implement daily screenings to prevent and reduce COVID-19 transmission (2).
According to CDC guidance, Employers should:
- Encourage sick employees to stay home
- Test employees with signs or symptoms of COVID-19 and the close contacts of people who tested positive for COVID-19
- Ask employees who tested positive for COVID-19 to follow isolation procedure
- Ask employees to notify them if they are in contact with a sick household member
Currently at least 33 states in the U.S. have made screening employees prior to coming to a physical workspace a requirement. Some states require employee screening prior to each shift. Other states require screening before arriving at work. JD Supra has compiled a list of all the states that have mandatory screening requirements (3).
Key components of a daily health screening
A return to work program should provide the following services as part of the their daily employee screenings to ensure safety. This screening solution should also generate “come to work” or “stay home” recommendations based on the answers to the screening questions.
- Symptom Tracking
- Testing Reports
- Exposure Logging
- Travel Inquiries
- Vaccine Tracking
- Health Safety Recommendations
Employers should have a symptom checker app with surveys to see if employees are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. The symptom checker app should ensure no employees with signs of COVID-19 are reporting to the physical work location.
As per the CDC, potential symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- Fever greater than 100.4 degrees
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Fatigue, muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Employers should ask if users have been tested and their results. The CDC recommends testing of individuals with signs or symptoms of COVID-19 and their close contacts (2). Establishing a routine testing program also helps companies capture people who are asymptomatic but carry COVID-19 and are silent spreaders. A widespread testing program can help employees stay ahead of COVID-19 cases and prevent transmission.
Testing results should be accessible from a centralized dashboard. With this information, employers can immediately view positive cases and start contact tracing to minimize further COVID-19 transmission.
Employees should log their exposure to those infected with COVID-19 and/or sick with a potential COVID-19 infection. Employers should keep track of this information and send the appropriate advisories. For example, they should send quarantine advisories if employees have been in contact with someone infected with COVID-19. Anyone who has been exposed should not enter the workplace until they have properly quarantined per the CDC guidelines.
In some areas, it is required for employees traveling from certain states to quarantine to ensure they are COVID-free (4). For this reason, employers should ask about recent travel in their health screening. Specifically, they should ask about travel outside of the country or to states on the mandatory quarantine list (4). If yes, they should not enter the workplace until they have met the quarantine exit criteria.
Many companies are waiting for the COVID-19 vaccines to become available to the general public. As they arrive, however, universal vaccine adoption is not guaranteed. Employers should have a vaccine tracking tool to help them manage a mixed immunity environment.
Companies should consider asking about employees vaccination status and type and offering incentives for adopters.
Health Safety Recommendations
It is important to understand how your screening solution generates safety recommendations. The survey and recommendations should help employers meet the screening requirements for their safe return to work program. The screener should ensure that only healthy employees are reporting to work.
Employers should develop a list of scenarios they should be prepared for according to local laws and guidelines. They should know what the response will be for these scenarios individually or in combination. Alongside this they should develop the appropriate recommendations for these cases as in the example below.
Scenario 1: An employees with no signs or symptoms of COVID-19
Recommendation: Cleared to come to work.
Scenario 2: An employees with a fever above 100.4 and/or a headache and sore throat
Recommendation: Stay home, seek medical attention, and get tested for COVID-19
Scenario 3: Employees that have traveled to states on the mandatory quarantine
Recommendation: Quarantine and/or get tested for COVID-19
Employee screenings play a vital role in return to work programs, but they are only one protection tool. Companies still need to add more “swiss cheese layers” to keep employees safe and prevent outbreaks.
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(1) The Swiss Cheese Model of Pandemic Defense
(2) Guidance for Businesses & Employers
(3) This Won’t Hurt a Bit: Employee Temperature and Health Screenings – A List of Statewide Orders (UPDATED)
(4) Employees’ Personal Travel Raises COVID-19 Concerns: FAQs For Employers