COVID-19

Could employers start testing employees for COVID-19 at work?

Meghan McCarty Carino Apr 17, 2020
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Will testing at work be feasible, given concerns about privacy and availability? Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
COVID-19

Could employers start testing employees for COVID-19 at work?

Meghan McCarty Carino Apr 17, 2020
Will testing at work be feasible, given concerns about privacy and availability? Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

President Donald Trump has now outlined new federal guidelines for easing the economy back up, deferred to states to set their own timelines once they meet certain criteria. More widespread testing for COVID-19 — whether you have it, whether you have had it — is one key to this. Retail giant Amazon is looking at testing all of its employees.

Not everyone who can transmit COVID-19 shows symptoms. But to reopen workplaces employers are going to want to make sure job sites are safe, says Rajaie Batniji, a doctor and founder of the employer health program Collective Health.

“I think it’s inevitable that employers are going to have to take the lead on getting broad testing for COVID done,” Batniji said.

He says many workers are used to getting seasonal flu vaccines at work and medical professionals have to prove they’re cleared for diseases like tuberculosis.

But Edgar Ndjatou, executive director at the nonprofit Workplace Fairness, points out federal law generally protects workers from medical evaluations by employers.

“There’s so many things that would have to be worked out before allowing the employer this type of access to their medical information,” Ndjatou said.

That includes job protections for workers who are found to be ill. Also, employers might have to test workers again and again, which would require a massive ramp up of testing capacity.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What does the unemployment picture look like?

It depends on where you live. The national unemployment rate has fallen from nearly 15% in April down to 8.4% percent last month. That number, however, masks some big differences in how states are recovering from the huge job losses resulting from the pandemic. Nevada, Hawaii, California and New York have unemployment rates ranging from 11% to more than 13%. Unemployment rates in Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota and Vermont have now fallen below 5%.

Will it work to fine people who refuse to wear a mask?

Travelers in the New York City transit system are subject to $50 fines for not wearing masks. It’s one of many jurisdictions imposing financial penalties: It’s $220 in Singapore, $130 in the United Kingdom and a whopping $400 in Glendale, California. And losses loom larger than gains, behavioral scientists say. So that principle suggests that for policymakers trying to nudge people’s public behavior, it may be better to take away than to give.

How are restaurants recovering?

Nearly 100,000 restaurants are closed either permanently or for the long term — nearly 1 in 6, according to a new survey by the National Restaurant Association. Almost 4.5 million jobs still haven’t come back. Some restaurants have been able to get by on innovation, focusing on delivery, selling meal or cocktail kits, dining outside — though that option that will disappear in northern states as temperatures fall. But however you slice it, one analyst said, the United States will end the year with fewer restaurants than it began with. And it’s the larger chains that are more likely to survive.

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