Testing Employees for COVID-19

Testing Employees for COVID-19? Here’s What to Consider.
We have shared our approach at the Chamber as we reopened to staff. And, like many of you, we’re learning as much as we can about what to consider when it comes to testing our teams for COVID-19. Here’s what we’ve discovered.

Are employers allowed to require an employee to be tested?
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that employers can make any medical test mandatory as long as the test is “job-related and consistent with business necessity,” according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. An employee with COVID-19 “will pose a direct threat to the health of others,” so employers may administer COVID-19 testing. However, because antibody testing does not detect a “direct threat” to others and doesn’t meet the standard of being “job-related and consistent with business necessity,” an employer cannot require that an employee take an antibody test. Read the Employers Council blog on this topic. As with all medical information, employers must keep confidential testing results about a particular employee and store it separately from the employee’s personnel file.

Who should be tested? The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is encouraging anybody with symptoms to get tested. Makes sense. 😉 Symptoms can include fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, muscle pain, new loss of taste or smell and chills.

What test is best? Well, it depends. So, whether you’re administering the test at the workplace, sending your team to a testing site or seeking testing information for personal reasons, a medical provider can advise you on the best test. CDPHE also has a page on testing that offers information on the types of tests, and the FDA has an FAQ site with hotline information.

Where should my employees get tested? Some employers are opting to administer the tests at their work sites. If that’s the route you’re choosing, health care partners are offering services to guide you on how to set up testing, follow-up monitoring and medical care. Here are some Chamber members who have developed specific protocols to support employers testing: Biodesix, National Jewish Health and UCHealth.

The state also has county-by-county information for where to find testing sites. The city of Denver has a testing site at the Pepsi Center. People who do not currently have COVID-19 symptoms but believe they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or have been deemed essential by their employers can receive the test for free. The city will also send the “Wellness Winnie” to the homes of people who are homebound and believe they have contracted the virus. Here’s where you can get more information about accessing those services. CDPHE advises people to consider a telehealth visit or nurseline advice before seeking in-person testing or care.

We have created a list of Chamber members offering COVID-19 testing and other resources to support you during this time. View the list. If you offer resources or support for employers or employees and would like to be added to our list, please contact communications@denverchamber.org.

What should happen if a member of our team tests positive? That employee should isolate for 72 hours after their fever subsides and other symptoms have improved and at least 10 days since their symptoms first appeared, according to CDPHE. When possible, many employers are offering work-from-home options during that time as well. New leave policies were also put in place. Make sure you know the new rules regarding paid leave for that employee under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This federal law requires up to two weeks paid leave for those who work for employers with fewer than 500 employees, with some exemptions. The U.S. Department of Labor has a fact sheet for employers that details what situations qualify for paid leave, how long an employee can take based on each situation and how to calculate pay.

While not infringing on the employee’s right to privacy, you should share with the rest of the team that somebody has tested positive and consider offering testing to other staff members. Our members have been sharing with us that employees are also benefiting from additional supports during this time, such as access to mental health providers and more virtual health services.

By taking seriously the need to limit the spread of the virus, we will be able to continue to get back to work (albeit in new and creative ways). Our thoughtful response as employers is helping Colorado’s economy fair better than most in the nation – let’s continue to ensure that’s the case.

Please share what you are doing so we can continue to learn from each other. Contact us anytime at communications@denverchamber.org.

Kelly Brough is the president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber.