Many employers are implementing some form of testing regime for its employees as part of their ‘COVID-secure’ return to work plans. In our latest alert, we take a look at some of the issues which may arise from implementing temperature testing at work.
An elevated temperature is recognised as a common symptom of COVID-19 and the current Government guidance is that anyone with a fever should self-isolate as a precaution. However, not all fevers are caused by COVID-19 and not all COVID-19 patients are feverish. Nevertheless, temperature screening can still play an important role in identifying potentially infected employees and isolating them from the rest of your workforce.
If you are considering a temperature testing regime, here are some practical tips:
- Explain to managers and staff why you require employees to be temperature tested and the implications of refusal. Ask employees to inform you in advance if they object to screening. If there are objections, listen to them and try to allay any fears.
- Suggest to employees that they take their temperature before they attend work if they think they may be unwell and that they should not attend work if they have a temperature or any other possible COVID-19 symptoms.
- Recognise that a high temperature is not an absolute indicator of COVID-19 – further screening may be required by a qualified professional.
- Consider how and where you will carry out the testing. How will you avoid queues and/or congestion at testing sites? What will you do if a colleague has a temperature? Where will they go and whom will they speak to?
- Use contactless thermometers.
- Don’t ask employees to be tested in unpaid time.
The Information Commissioner’s Office has published guidance to employers on the data protection implications of workplace testing. In summary, the guidance states that:
- Employers can test and process the resulting health information (which is special category data) for health and safety reasons in connection with employment.
- Testing data should only be used for legitimate purposes, stored securely, shared on a need to know basis and purged once no longer needed.
- Details of how the testing data will be used should be published to employees.
- Employers can notify staff about potential or confirmed infections amongst their colleagues but should avoid naming individuals wherever possible.
- Large employers should carry out a data privacy impact assessment setting out:
- the activity being proposed;
- the data protection risks;
- whether the proposed activity is necessary and proportionate; the more intrusive the technology, the greater the justification required;
- the mitigating actions that can be put in place to counter the risks; and
- a plan or confirmation that mitigation has been effective.
Depending on the needs of your business, and subject to availability, you may wish for your staff to undergo COVID-19 antigen tests in order to test for presence of the virus. These should be undertaken by trained individuals wearing the appropriate PPE as they involve taking a swab from the nose and/or throat. The samples are then lab-tested and the results are therefore not instantaneous.
It may also be possible to test whether employees have previously had COVID-19 using an antibody test but until recently there had been concerns over reliability of such tests. There is also still a question mark over whether antibodies confer immunity and, if so, for how long. Specialist advice should be sought as to how best to conduct antibody tests.