News & Media
Many with mask having his temperature taken
jobbys, Getty Images

Should Employers Test for COVID-19?

Businesses want to reopen safely, but is COVID-19 testing for all team members a wise move? The tests can be expensive, especially if done multiple times. In addition, they only measure infection at a single point in time, and many people balk at the idea of mandatory testing.

NEW YORK – Business owners are struggling with workplace safety measures as they begin to reopen and design a system to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as people return to work. One idea many companies are grappling with is whether to have all workers tested for COVID-19 prior to returning and routinely after that as well.

As they weigh their options, some employers find that the testing of employees in their workplaces may not be practical. For one thing, the tests can be costly; diagnostic tests start at around $100 each, and they only measure one point in time.

Testing is “not really available, feasible or easy, and it’s not a solution you can do for every employee, every day,” says Lauren Vela, senior director for the Pacific Business Group on Health, which represents large employers like Microsoft and Walmart.

Some nursing homes and assisted living facilities have mandatory employee testing, in part because they represent 45% of virus deaths in the U.S., according to an analysis by the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity. Len Russ, who owns Bayberry Care Center in New Rochelle, N.Y., told Bloomberg that they’ve tested about 100 employees twice per week for the past five weeks at a cost of $20,000 a week. The screening, however, did identify at least six employees who had the coronavirus.

The cost is a big issue. Some companies are trying to bill their employees’ insurance to see if it will cover the testing. If it is covered, however insurance likely won’t cover repeat testing. That leaves companies on the hook for big testing bills if they want to conduct them on a regular basis.

Suffolk Construction partnered with Buoy Health to make a testing facility available to its employees if needed, for example. However, the builder isn’t doing mass scale screenings of its employees. Executive Vice President Alex Hall says they’re not screening all employees because of privacy concerns and a perception over the limited usefulness of the results.

“We get it. There’s an element of Big Brother around this situation anyway,” Hall says. “We want to be mindful of how people are feeling.”

Instead of testing, some employers are relying on lower-cost precautions, such as temperature checks and symptom screening. They’re also stocking up on masks, hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes employees can use throughout the workday.

But a decision to forego regular testing raises other concerns if employees feel unsafe returning to work if it’s not done. The Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which represents casino employees in Las Vegas, sued Harrah’s hotel and MGM Resorts International’s Bellagio on Monday, accusing them of not adequately protecting their workers. They’re pushing for regular testing of employees. Shortly after reopening, a worker died from the virus in June.

MGM said it’s working with health care professionals to develop safety protocols that will include mandatory testing for anyone with symptoms or exposure. It will also provide complimentary tests for any employee who wants one.

“Nothing is more important to us than the safety of everyone inside of our properties,” the company said in a statement.

For brokers looking for advice on safety protocols to consider when reopening an office, Florida Realtors created safety guidelines for Realtors. It includes a printable poster members may post for buyers visiting an open house.

Source: “Employers Find Testing Employees More Trouble Than It’s Worth,” Bloomberg (July 6, 2020)

© Copyright 2020 INFORMATION INC., Bethesda, MD (301) 215-4688