Should Employers Test for COVID-19?

July 7, 2020

Business owners are struggling with which workplace safety measures to implement in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as people return to work.

One idea that many companies are grappling with is whether to have all workers tested for COVID-19 prior to returning and routinely after that as well.

But some employers are finding that as they reopen mass, the testing of employees in their workplaces may not be practical. The tests can be costly; diagnostic tests start at around $100 each, and they only measure one point in time.

Testing is “not really available, feasible, or easy, and it’s not a solution you can do for every employee, every day,” Lauren Vela, senior director for the Pacific Business Group on Health, which represents large employers like Microsoft and Walmart, told Bloomberg.

Some nursing homes and assisted living facilities have made testing of employees mandatory. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities have comprised 45% of virus deaths in the U.S., according to an analysis by the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity. Len Russ, who owns Bayberry Care Center in New Rochelle, N.Y., told Bloomberg that they’ve tested about 100 employees twice a week for the past five weeks at the cost of $20,000 a week. The screening, however, did identify at least six employees who were positive with coronavirus.

The cost is a big issue surrounding testing. Some companies are trying to bill the employees’ insurance to see if it will cover the testing. If the test is covered, insurance likely won’t cover repeat testing, however. That leaves companies on the hook for the big testing bills.

Suffolk Construction has partnered with Buoy Health to make a testing facility available to its employees if needed. However, the builder is not doing mass scale screenings of its employees. Executive Vice President Alex Hall told Bloomberg they are not screening all employees because of privacy concerns and a perception over the limited usefulness of the results.

“We get it. There’s an element of Big Brother around this situation anyway,” Hall told Bloomberg. “We want to be mindful of how people are feeling.”

Instead of testing, some employers are relying on lower-cost precautions, such as temperature checks and symptom screening of employees. They’re also stocking up on masks, hand sanitizer, and cleaning wipes to be used throughout the workday.

But some employees are feeling unsafe from the lack of testing. The Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which represents casino employees in Las Vegas, sued Harrah’s hotel and MGM Resorts International’s Bellagio on Monday, accusing them of not adequately protecting their workers. They are pushing for regular testing of employees. Shortly after reopening, a worker died from the virus in June.

MGM said it’s working with health care professionals to develop safety protocols. For example, it will include mandatory testing for anyone with symptoms or exposure. It will also provide complimentary tests for any employee who wants one.

“Nothing is more important to us than the safety of everyone inside of our properties,” the company said in a statement.