As companies across industry sectors reopen under certain COVID-19 guidelines, some employers are requiring a negative COVID-19 test result as a condition of reentering the workplace.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new guidance on April 23 clarifying that employers may conduct mandatory testing of employees for COVID-19 prior to entering the workplace because of the “direct threat” it poses to the health of others. According to the EEOC, the requirement of testing should be “job related and consistent with business necessity.” It also updated its 2009 publication “Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act” on March 21 to address issues with COVID-19.
COVID-19 testing is being offered and conducted across the state at various locations such as hospitals and clinics. The Arkansas Department of Health is also offering tests at Local Health Units.
Specimens collected from patients are sent to the state Public Health Laboratory and results are typically available within 48 to 72 hours, however, it can take longer in some cases. According to Secretary of Health Dr. Nate Smith, patients who test positive are being notified as soon as a result is available.
There is concern regarding the timeliness of the COVID-19 test results if employers are requiring them prior to returning to work.
“There is some delay in sending out notification letters to individuals, but it is something we are working on,” Smith told Arkansas Money & Politics. “If an employee has not been exposed to the virus, it is not necessary to test that individual. If there is possible exposure, that employee should self-quarantine at home. I don’t really see the requirement of a COVID-19 test prior to employment as a necessity, but it is understandable to get tested if the employee is symptomatic.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website also notes that “employers should not require a COVID-19 test result or a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick to validate their illness, qualify for sick leave, or to return to work.”
Even though it is permitted, the CDC mentions that it might not be a practical manner since healthcare providers and facilities “may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely manner.” Furthermore, “most people with COVID-19 have mild illness and can recover at home without medical care and can follow CDC recommendations to determine when to discontinue home isolation and return to work.”