A primary symptom of the virus is an elevated body temperature of above 38˚C (100.4˚F).
Accurate body temperature measurements seek to measure a person’s core body temperature. The normal core body temperature range in an adult is 36.5 – 37 C, but not everyone’s “normal” is the same. As well, different methods of temperature testing, such as oral, axillar (armpit), or tympanic (inside the ear) can yield different results. Therefore, having tests performed by medically trained staff is required for proper testing, and appropriate assessment of results. As well, employers should be aware that proper hygiene, and the provision (and proper use) of PPE is required if considering oral, axillar or tympanic temperature testing as this necessitates physical contact, and potentially puts the person doing the testing at risk. This can raise issues of cost, liability if proper measures are not followed, and the risk of employee refusal to participate.
For rapid and hygienic testing, contactless Infra-Red (IR) thermometers are often the method chosen by employers. However, some experts believe IR devices are unreliable because of user error and even when used correctly, those infected may go fourteen days or more without showing any symptoms. IR temperature results can also be influenced by environmental factors (ie: someone who walked to work in the sun compared to someone who drove to work in air conditioning).
Touchless temperature scanners are available to employers to use, but can they?
There has been no government order to do so to date, including under Ontario’s new health and safety guidelines.
This issue is unclear and controversial, including because an employee may have a temperature without having the virus.
On the other hand, thermal testing is non-invasive, generates fairly objective and instant results and tests for one of the primary symptoms of COVID-19.
So, employers may consider using thermal testing, but not randomly in the workplace, but rather only if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting an employee may be symptomatic.
Ideally, an employee would consent to a temperature screen in the workplace, further minimizing the risk of liability for a privacy violation.
To utilize thermal screening effectively and to minimize risk of privacy violation, employers should consider:
- if possible, retaining a third party to conduct the thermal screening;
- ensure any other employee engaging in the screening is duly and properly trained and qualified to use the touchless temperature scanner and is knowledgeable about COVID-19 symptoms and what other factors may influence screening results;
- providing the tester with personal protective equipment, including: surgical (latex) gloves, face masks, a lab or disposable coat and alcohol-based hand sanitizer in all workplace areas where testing is undertaken;
- asking employees who attend work if they are displaying any flu-or-cold-like symptoms, such as coughing, breathing trouble, fever, pink eye, etc., or otherwise feeling ill for any reason;
- asking employees if they have had any contact within the past fourteen days with any other person who is a confirmed, or suspected, case of COVID-19;
- asking the consent of employees before undertaking the thermal testing – if there are reasonable grounds for suspecting an employee may be infected, but the employee refuses conduct, the employee may be asked not to attend the workplace due to the risk of potential contamination of others;
- conducting the testing in a private area, beyond the observation and earshot of others; and
- not collecting, recording, storing, using or disclosing for any reasons the information collected other than solely for determining whether the employee should be permitted to enter the workplace.
If an employee Employees thermal tests at at or above 38˚C (100.4˚F), or the employers “yes” to any of the screening questions, the employee should be advised to leave the workplace and stay at home, self-isolate, contact their physician or the local health unit for further assessment and next steps and leave home only for essential reasons.
Thermal testing and screening questions are reasonable methods to protect a workplace from a potential outbreak of COVID-19.
Provided that employees consent to being tested, the test results are not recorded, and the tests are conducted safely and privately, liability for potential violation of privacy should be minimized, if not eliminated entirely.
If any testing or screening is conducted, how should that information be handled?
There is no decisive, clear statutory privacy-related laws in Ontario regarding implementing and conducting thermal testing in workplaces.
Therefore, employers must adhere to “best practices” to avoid potential privacy violations at common law.
If thermal testing is utilized, the personal information obtained from the employee through temperature screening should not be collected, recorded, stored, used or disclosed for any purpose other than solely determining whether the employee should be permitted to enter the workplace.
In addition, any personal information collected should be anonymized prior to recording, if recording is even required.
Any personal information collected should also be safeguarded against unauthorized use or disclosure.
The information collected should be limited as much as possible to fulfill the purpose of testing, and test records should not be collected, stored, used or disclosed for any purpose other than the screening context.
Ontario’s Human Rights Code Applies to all Workplace Screening and Testing:
Currently, Ontario’s Human Rights Commission indicates that medical assessments in the workplace to determine an employee’s ability and fitness to perform his or her employment duties may be permissible in these circumstances under Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
Despite this, personal information collected by medical tests may have an adverse impact on employees with other disabilities.
Therefore, employers should only obtain information from medical testing that is reasonably necessary in the circumstances to evaluate the employee’s fitness to perform on the job and any restrictions that may limit this ability, while excluding information that may identify a disability.
Based on this, touchless thermal scanning properly undertaken is unlikely to expose employers to tenable human rights and discrimination-related claims.