Of the many suggested and often required stipulations restaurants are facing as they open their doors amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, developing a protocol for testing employees is probably one of the most universal. From temperature testing to wellness checks, operators are determining what procedures work best for them that can keep their employees and customers safe, while easing any concerns that the public at large may have.
As is the nature of our entrepreneurial mindset, companies are rising to the occasion and developing tools that may just help facilitate compliance. There are, however, some concerns, such as what dictates a medical record and employee privacy rights.
Let’s look at what’s hitting the market and what legal ramifications may be involved.
Tools Helping Restaurants Reopen
From simple questionnaires to facial recognition software that takes employees temperatures, the vast number of screening technologies hitting the market is impressive.
What was (and still is) a facial authentication device for payment in retail stores and restaurants, is now a temperature taker. A thermal camera takes the temperature while an RGB camera identifies the person through facial recognition. After being identified, your temperature is posted on a small tablet screen beneath the camera.
Salesforce, an integrated CRM solution platform, is now offering Work.com—a technology solution equipped with tools that include employee wellness assessments, shift management, contact tracing, and emergency response management.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), one of the largest privately owned global companies offering assurance, tax, and advisory services to Fortune 500 companies as well as private business (and who made a whopping $42.4 billion for the year ending June 2019), has developed Check-In. This platform is made up of two products—Status Connect, which connects you to your workforce and offers real-time view of productivity, and Automatic Contact Tracing, which identifies risk exposure. The contact tracing app logs distance among employees and can be used to determine possible exposure.
This software, developed by Vivid Learning Systems, registers employees’ COVID-19 status, offers a wellness screening tool, and reports on employees in quarantine or self-isolation. Employees can access online forms to report vital information including symptoms and contacts. Reports include new cases, suspected cases, active cases, recovered cases, employee isolation status, number of hospitalizations, and cases by location.
Accuracy and Effectiveness of Tools
As more and more tools enter the market, public health experts are questioning the accuracy of mass marketed and often untested products. Even devices that have been around for years are being put into question.
One commonly used temperature detector is the thermometer gun which can measure a person’s temperature without contacting the skin using an infrared sensor. Pictures of people taking other’s temperatures by holding an infrared thermometer anywhere from 2” to 6” away from their foreheads have filled the internet.
These finely calibrated medical tools, however, require a specified distance—not too close or too far–as well as a certain environment with little to no moisture, smoke, dust, or particles in the air, in order to produce accurate results. Thermometer guns were developed for quick screening in a controlled health care setting and are not as accurate as traditional thermometers.
The New York Times reported Dr. James Lawler, a medical expert at the University of Nebraska’s Global Center for Health Security, “These devices (referring to infrared thermometers) are notoriously not accurate and reliable.”
The Legal Ramifications of Taking and Recording Your Employees Temperatures
At question is an employees’ rights and what constitutes private health details. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued an updated guidance document to answer the many questions and concerns that employers face including confidentiality of medical records from health checks.
Information regarding medical examinations or conditions, including temperature recordings, must by maintained on separate forms, kept in separate medical files, and treated as a confidential medical record. In addition, the person administering the temperature check should be trained on the procedure and provided the appropriate PPE. One important note: As of March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic met the “direct threat” standard. Because of this, individuals, under specific guidelines, are not protected by the nondiscrimination provisions of the ADA. The CDC has also developed a guidance plan for businesses and employers in response to the coronavirus disease 2019.
With all the new restrictions, regulations, and legal parameters that restaurants are now having to navigate, monitoring employee wellness checks may seem like another painful, though needed, addition to your operation. The good news is that customers and employees undoubtedly appreciate the care and concern that such an act elicits—which goes a long way towards bringing back your prized patrons.