Employee symptom screening options for coronavirus

Your options to making sure workers are free of COVID-19 symptoms before showing up to work

Resources / July 16, 2020

COVID-19 has turned business upside down. But as the world emerges into a new sense of normalcy, businesses are evaluating how they can return to work safely with social distancing, and re-engage with customers. One element of their return-to-work plans is implementing employee health screening. Companies are finding that they have several options to test employees for COVID-19 and make sure their employees and customers are safe, including:

  • Coronavirus testing
  • Temperature checks
  • Verbal self-declaration
  • Employee symptom screening

In fact, many state health departments require that businesses implement employee health screening, and make the results available for inspection if asked.

Option 1: COVID testing

One option for businesses to implement employee health screening is to actually require coronavirus testing for employees. This option may be appropriate for high-risk settings like nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or hospitals. This employee health screening method provides an objective measure of potential employee exposure to coronavirus because it relies on scientific data.

However, the nasal swab testing can be uncomfortable and invasive for employees and the cost to the employer can be high. Companies that are expecting quick results may need to re-evaluate their strategy; the turnaround time to wait for results can be several days - introducing some lag time as to when the employer can evaluate results.

COVID employee testing - pros and cons

Objective measure of employee exposureCost to employer can be high
Based on scientific dataInvasive to employee
Still need to log data for audit
Turnaround time can be several days
Inconvenient - takes time out of work to do

One option for employee health screening, although invasive, is nasal COVID testing
One option for employee health screening, although invasive, is nasal COVID testing

Option 2: Temperature checks

Another option for employers to reduce risk for their workplaces is to take temperatures when employees arrive on site for their shifts. This has become commonplace for many industries, including restaurants, dentist / doctor offices, manufacturers, retailers and more. Typically, the employer uses a contactless thermometer to gauge temperature at the forehead.

This method of employee health screening is relatively straightforward and low-cost. It produces objective data about the employee's current state, although it may not detect asymptomatic or presymptomatic employees. Although it provides instant results on-demand, it disrupts the workplace workflow. For example, employees or visitors may not be able to enter the establishment before passing a temperature screening, or it may require an additional employee to be in charge of conducting employee temperature health screenings.

Temperature checks - pros and cons

Objective measure of one COVID symptomDoesn't detect presymptomatic / asymptomatic employees
Relatively low-costDisruptive to workplace workflows
Non-invasiveMany workplaces have inconsistent audit and logging policies
Instant - results on demand

In addition to symptom checks, temperature taking can be used as an additional layer of employee health screening
In addition to symptom checks, temperature taking can be used as an additional layer of employee health screening

Option 3: Verbal self-declaration

Some employers and businesses are using verbal self-declarations to screen employees for health and wellness. This type of self-declaration involves a manager asking an employee if they are feeling well, or if they are having any symptoms. An alternate form of this self-declaration sometimes comes when an employer tells workers: "If you're not feeling well, please don't come to work".

Some companies have implemented this type of employee health screening because it is very low cost (or no cost), and doesn't require any disruption to the employee work environment, other than a quick email or policy notification to employees. The ease-of-implementation, however, comes with some drawbacks. Because it is a verbal declaration, the questions posed to employees as part of the health screening may be inconsistent from one worker to the next. Additionally, verbal declarations don't generate any written data, posing one advantage and one disadvantage. Because there is no log, employers cannot produce proof to health departments that they are conducting the required employee health screenings. On the other hand, because there is no written health data, employers do not have to be responsible for securing symptom forms submitted by employee.

Verbal self-declaration - pros and cons

Very low-costEmployees may forget key info, or falsify it
Easy to implementInconsistent questions asked to employees
Non-invasiveNo written data audit or logging for review
No written health data to secure

Employees can complete digital symptom screening on the privacy of their device
Employees can complete digital symptom screening on the privacy of their device

Option 4: Employee symptom screening

A final option for employers is to conduct symptom screening of their employees. This employee symptom screening can come in a few different forms. Some employers may choose to use paper forms and clipboards, although this poses a risk of transmitting germs from one employee to the next. Others have turned to digital employee health screening solutions that present symptom questions to employees, ask them to respond, and then log their responses securely for audit or review.

While some digital solutions are more cumbersome in that they require employees to download and install a mobile app to respond to symptom screening questions, other digital solutions, including Picohealth, use text messaging to easily engage employees and record their answers to symptom questions. These solutions consistently present the same questions to employees, and allow managers to log, audit, and review that data. With Picohealth, you can also automatically text a group of employees a health screener survey link according to their shift schedules, further simplifying the process because the HR administrator doesn't need to remember to do so.

Employee symptom screening - pros and cons

Easy to implementEmployees may forget key info, or falsify it
Consistent questions asked to employeesClipboard or paper-based solutions can transmit germs
Can log, review, and audit employee responses
Digital solutions are private on the employee's device

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