April 23, 2020 / 8:24 PM / a month ago

U.S. civil rights agency says employers can test workers for COVID-19

April 23 (Reuters) - The U.S. agency that enforces civil rights laws against disability discrimination said on Thursday that companies can test employees for COVID-19 before permitting them to enter the workplace as long as the tests are accurate and reliable.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last month said employers may take workers’ temperatures without violating the the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but Thursday’s guidance appears to authorize a broader array of testing options.

The commission said mandatory medical testing, which is generally prohibited by the ADA, is allowed if it is “job related and consistent with business necessity.”

Applying that standard, the new guidance allows employers to take steps to determine if employees entering the workplace have COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, because the virus poses a “direct threat” to the health of others.

But before implementing testing, employers should review standards from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other authorities about which type of testing is considered safe and accurate, the commission said.

And employers who test workers should still require employees to observe infection control practices, such as social distancing and regular handwashing, to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.

The EEOC announcement comes as some states begin to lift shelter-in-place orders and allow businesses to reopen and their employees to return to work. (Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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