San Diego County Climate Changes Again on Mandatory Temperature Checks

San Diego County employers that scrambled to find thermometers to comply with the county’s prior health order learned on June 16, 2020 that their efforts were not in vain. One week after the county amended its order to omit onsite temperature checks from its employee health screening requirements, it issued a new order reviving the temperature check mandate. 

Effective June 16, 2020, the county amended its Order of the Health Officer and Emergency Regulations to require essential and reopened businesses to conduct temperature screening of all employees.  (The county amended the order again effective June 19, 2020, but did not change the employee screening requirements.)  The amended order dictates that employers must exclude from the worksite any employees who: (1) have a temperature of 100 degrees or more; (2) exhibit any COVID-19 symptoms as described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (cough, shortness of breath or trouble breathing, headache, fever, chills, muscle or body aches, fatigue, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, or new loss of taste or smell, nausea, or vomiting, diarrhea); or (3) have been exposed to individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.   

Unlike the previous version of the order, and contrary to the State of California’s COVID-19 Industry Guidance for industries other than childcare, day camps and schools, employers no longer have an option to do either temperature checks or symptom/exposure screenings; employers must conduct temperature screenings and must exclude employees exhibiting symptoms.  Also unlike the June 9 order, the county has now incorporated these mandatory measures in an updated version of the county’s Safe Reopening Plan Template.

Ambiguities continue to exist between the operative order and its companion Safe Reopening Plan template.  The latest version of the order does not expressly require businesses to conduct symptom screening.  The order states that businesses “[s]hall conduct temperature screening of all employees and prohibit entry to the workplace of employees with a temperature of 100 degrees or more, employees exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. . . or employees who have recently been exposed to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.”  This sentence implies temperature screenings are mandatory, but symptom screening is not.  Businesses must only exclude employees who “exhibit” symptoms.  However, the Safe Reopening Plan template (which has been updated, although the date on the form remains unchanged as 5/5/20) lists symptom screening as a mandatory measure in addition temperature screening. It states that “[e]mployees must be screened for symptoms,” including “exposure to individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.”

Absent further clarification, businesses should consider establishing protocols that include both onsite temperature screening and symptom screening measures.  Not only does the Safe Reopening Plan template frame these measures as mandatory, but health screening is an important tool for carrying out the obligation to exclude employees with COVID-19 symptoms or exposure to a COVID-19 positive individual.  Some COVID-19 symptoms may not be readily apparent (e.g., headaches, body aches, sore throat, and diarrhea) or become known without affirmative screening measures.  Employers also likely would not know whether an employee has been exposed to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.  The evolving nature of the government guidance has highlighted the importance of having a plan in place for reopening businesses and maintaining safe work environments for employees.  These plans should include having designated individuals focused on government requirements and recommendations and on managing a response to an employee who tests positive for COVID-19 and may have exposed the workforce.   

Although it is difficult to predict whether more changes are in store, the County of San Diego Public Health Officer has stated publically she believes mandatory employee temperature checks and symptom screenings are critical components to the county’s efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19 while businesses are allowed to reopen. These public statements and the county’s reversion to mandatory temperature checks indicate these directives will remain for San Diego County for the foreseeable future

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.