With the current coronavirus pandemic, I have been wondering what I can do to protect my employees in the workplace. May we take the temperature of our employees before they begin working each day? If I have an employee who reports that he has tested positive for COVID-19, can I require him to provide me with a doctor’s note certifying his fitness for duty before returning to work?
Both the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) have stated that although taking an employee’s body temperature is a medical examination and medical examinations of employees during employment are allowed only in limited circumstances, due to the potential of community spread of COVID-19, employers may measure employees’ body temperature.
Employers are reminded, however, that taking body temperatures is allowed only for the limited purpose of evaluating the risk that employee’s presence poses to others in the workplace as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a frequently asked question and answer from April 23, 2020, the EEOC stated that an employer may require a doctor’s note certifying fitness for duty from an employee.
The EEOC’s rationale for its position was that such an inquiry is allowed under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it would either not be a disability-related inquiry, or, if the pandemic were truly severe, such certification would be justified under the ADA standards for disability-related inquiries of employees.
As conditions continue to change, and the various government agencies continue to refine and augment their positions, we recommend that our members continue to monitor our website for updates on these and related issues.
The California Chamber of Commerce COVID-19 web page includes links to federal, state and local guidance on COVID-19 issues, plus CalChamber podcasts and blogs covering a multitude of employer questions on the pandemic. The page is located at www.calchamber.com/coronavirus.
Column based on questions asked by callers on the Labor Law Helpline, a service to California Chamber of Commerce preferred and executive members. For expert explanations of labor laws and Cal/OSHA regulations, not legal counsel for specific situations, call (800) 348-2262 or submit your question at www.hrcalifornia.com.