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Can an employer require an employee to have their temperature tested?

Many employers are considering temperature testing their employees to screen for potential covid-19 infection, particularly now that there is a renewed push to return employees to work. But for the process to be effective, there are some considerations to take into account before employees are asked to line up in front of a thermometer.

Can an employer require an employee to have their temperature tested?

The short answer is probably. Most employees are likely to understand the benefits of temperature testing and agree to be tested. However if an employee does not wish to be tested, the rationale behind a decision to subject employees to temperature testing needs to be reasonable to be enforced, and this will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

There is no effective guidance in case law on whether an employee can be required to submit to temperature testing. However in many ways the rationale behind temperature testing is similar to an issue that has been the subject of numerous disputes, and that is drug testing. Submitting to drug testing in a workplace may be considered a lawful and reasonable direction where it is genuinely warranted for the purposes of managing health and safety risks, and where it is performed in a fair and reasonable manner.

Consider the details

While having a manager stand at the front door with a thermometer will achieve the immediate goal of temperature testing employees, for the process to be adequately robust and have integrity, more needs to be considered.

Many of these considerations seek to address situations where the process may be challenged by an employee, and have some parallels with existing drug and alcohol policies. For example:

  • A non-contact infrared thermometer should be used to reduce risk infection. Will the person conducting the testing require training on how to use the testing equipment correctly?
  • What measures are in place to reduce the risks of infection for the tester? For example, will a protective screen or face masks be provided?
  • Where will the testing occur? How will physical distancing measures (i.e. at least 1.5 meters apart) be managed, particularly if multiple employees are waiting to be tested at once?
  • How accurate is the equipment? What margin for deviation is built into the process?
  • What temperature will be defined as a “fever” for the purposes of the testing? For example greater than >38°C might be considered a fever.
  • What is the process where a person does have a fever? Will they be given a second test? Where will they wait that is adequately isolated from others if required?
  • What will happen if a person refuses to be tested? Will the employee be subjected to disciplinary action for their refusal? Will they be refused entry to the workplace?
  • Will a log or record of temperature readings be kept to demonstrate that the checking is occurring? If so, what steps are in place to prevent unauthorised access to private health information?

Many of the above considerations are amenable to being placed in the form of a workplace policy.

Consult

Temperature testing is a health and safety measure. Under workplace health and safety legislation, employers are required to consult with workers when introducing new risk management systems.

Ai Group’s Health & Safety Resource Centre contains detailed information about the consultation requirements under health and safety legislation.

Remember that temperature testing is not a complete solution

While temperature testing can form one part of a business’s risk management response to covid-19, it does not reduce the need for a wholistic response to managing the risk of infection.

Testing may create a false sense of safety, whereby people assume that the workplace is free from covid-19 because no one registered a fever at the front door. It is important to bear in mind that not all fevers may be a result of covid-19, and not all cases of covid-19 may result in a fever.

Businesses still need to consider other infection risk control measures such as personal protective equipment, maintaining adequate physical distancing and maintaining hygiene.

Ai Group’s COVID-19: Pandemic Planning Guide has information about other measures that may be taken to reduce infection risks.

Further information

Please contact one of our WHS specialists or Ai Group's Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for further information.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice and resources

Ai Group is continually publishing new COVID-19 advice and resources for employers:

  • Specific HR Resource Centre and Health & Safety Resource Centre content to assist members during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found here.
  • Dedicated COVID-19 member advice, industry news, resources and latest information can be found here.

Join Ai Group today!

Take advantage of more than 140 years of experience actively solving Members’ workplace issues and representing their interests at the highest levels of national and state government. Being a Member of Ai Group makes good business sense. 

Download our brochure to see why you should join and call us on 1300 55 66 77 or visit our Why join page to sign up for a consultation with one of our member representatives.

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