Your Guide to Keeping Your Office COVID-Free
Wellness screenings are a crucial part of your office reopening plans. It is at this stage that ill employees can be identified, and it also allows you to monitor occupation levels.
Having such measures in place will also display your conscientiousness towards your employees, cultivating workplace trust and making your employees more willing to frequent the office.
Screening methods do not have to be complicated – even simple health-related questions can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in your workplace. However, attention must be used to put together these procedures to ensure you avoid issues regarding privacy or discrimination.
Wellness screening not only protects your office daily but it also minimizes future disruptions as well as improves community wellness in general. The screening tool’s purpose is to create consistency and clarity at all workplaces, as COVID-19 guidelines are constantly changing. The screening also ensures employers are providing safe workplaces in accordance with their duties under local legal regulations.
Wellness screening is not intended to replace other measures used to control workplace exposures, as it cannot rule out the possibility that a person is infected with COVID-19. They must be used in addition to government-mandated procedures as well as any additional precautions you see beneficial.
This article will go through the basics of wellness screenings to give you the what, why and how on conducting these in the workplace so you are equipped for your office reopening.
First off – Compliance
Ensuring you are not accidentally violating any labour laws or regulations should be top of the priority list when beginning to put together a screening plan.
There are certain personal questions you cannot ask, such as the health statuses of one’s family or roommates, as well as issues with data collection and use.
Make sure you check with the legal standards of your region to ensure compliance. The last thing you want is to incur a labour violation while you are trying to protect your employees.
Tip: It may even be a good idea for businesses and organizations to consult a health and safety committee or representative to adhere to a safe workplace plan.
Understand Your Responsibilities
Employers must actively screen all workers, including anyone who has been vaccinated, using question-based screening before they enter the workplace at the start of their shift.
Active screening means that as an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure that no worker enters the workplace unless it is confirmed they have completed the screening and the result indicates that they are allowed to enter the workplace.
Generally speaking, workplaces are not required to screen all visitors. However, it is strongly recommended that you actively screen non-workers using a COVID-19 customer screening tool.
In some workplaces, however, there may be requirements for active screening of non-workers. Be sure to consult your local guidelines as they apply to your workplace to make sure you are covering all your bases.
While wellness screening requires a bit of work to set up and carry out effectively, it is not only necessary but will most definitely pay off in the end.
You will need to review applicable policies—including privacy and document retention—to make sure mandatory screening is consistent with other workplace policies.
The first consideration is to train those who will be conducting the screening on appropriate safety measures, confidentiality and legal compliance requirements, and data collecting and storage. A designated team provided with standardized materials will streamline the process, minimize discrepancies, and make for the most effective work.
Information to all regarding procedures and expectations should be circulated to all workers and essential visitors about mandatory screening questions. Placing visible signs notifying workers and essential visitors where mandatory screening will occur will help minimize confusion and allow screenings to start smoothly.
Another consideration is whether coordination with other departments outside the company is necessary. For example, employers may need to contact a property manager, as the manager may have their own rules.
If you choose to initiate on-site wellness screenings (more on choosing the best option for you below), protecting the employees conducting the health assessments must be a top priority.
The screener should wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including gloves as well as a face mask and eye protection or a disposable face shield that covers the front and sides of the screener’s face.
The most effective methods for eliminating or minimizing the screener’s exposure are those that incorporate physical distancing (standing at least 2 meters apart). If the screener cannot maintain two meters of distance from the employees being screened, a physical barrier (such as a plastic partition) should be installed.
There are several screening methods to choose from, and the best one (or combination) for you will depend on your organization’s structure, space, workforce, and many other factors. We’ve outlined some tried-and-true methods that you can choose from and modify to best suit your needs.
This type of screening involves asking employees questions about their symptoms and exposures. The answers are used to determine if they are likely to be infected with COVID-19.
If an employee refuses to have their temperature taken or refuses to answer questions about whether they have COVID-19, have symptoms associated with COVID-19, or have been tested for COVID-19, an employer is allowed and encouraged to prohibit the employee from entering the workplace.
Question-based screening may be done in-person or remotely by:
- web tool or app
Different regions and jurisdictions will have different requirements for the content of wellness screening questions. Make sure you consult your local guidelines for details, but such questions generally include:
- Those concerning COVID-19 associated symptoms. You can also ask if the employee has been tested for and/or diagnosed with COVID-19.
- If an employee is a close contact (usually meaning within six feet for at least 10 minutes, but again, consult local updated guidelines and information) of anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last two weeks.
- If the employee has travelled for either personal or professional reasons during the pandemic. You are allowed to ask if their trip was to a location that would require them to stay home for several days upon return, per recommendations from the national or local public health officials.
Tip: To avoid the appearance of discrimination, the same procedure should be followed for every employee and, when necessary, make modifications for employees who are unable to comply due to medical reasons.
As for clients, you may be able to complete screening:
- by phone or online before they arrive
- using a process similar to the one that you use to screen your workers
At a minimum, you must have passive screenings of non-workers in your workplace. This looks like:
- Signage with clear instructions at all entrances that tell people how to screen themselves. The signs should include the screening questions and instruct people with symptoms or high-risk exposures not to enter the premises
- You do not need to ask anyone to report the result of their screening, but people should be told not to enter if they volunteer the information that they did not pass the screening assessment
Symptoms to consider
Whether you implement on-site wellness screenings or pre-arrival self-screens, you need to decide which symptoms will be included as part of the assessment as per current local guidelines.
While there are many different symptoms that have been associated with COVID-19 infection, the following are often related:
- Fever or feeling feverish (e.g., chills, sweating)
- Difficulty breathing
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches or body aches
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Loss of taste or smell
Tip: Use questions that concentrate on “new” or “unexpected” symptoms. An employee with a chronic condition may be experiencing symptoms on the list, but that isn’t necessarily an indicator of infection. In other words, the symptoms should be out of the ordinary for the employee.
Rapid antigen test
This screening method involves collecting a sample from an individual who does not have symptoms or known exposure risk. The sample is analyzed to see if it contains the COVID-19 virus.
A person has passed rapid antigen screening if they get a negative result on the rapid antigen test.
If you use rapid antigen screening at your workplace, you must:
- follow your local health requirements (Ontario’s Ministry of Health requirements here)
- only use rapid antigen screening as the second step in your screening process after the person has passed question-based screening
Rapid antigen tests will not be effective on anyone who has recovered from COVID-19, meaning they can be both a more and a less reliable method of screening.
Employers should tell their local public health unit if they will be doing rapid antigen screening. The organization must have a process in place to report all positive results from rapid antigen tests to the local public health unit.
Employers using rapid antigen screening should develop a policy related to COVID-19 testing. This should be based on independent legal advice, which may include recommendations on issues of:
- human rights and accessibility
- labour and employment law
- health care consent
- occupational health and safety
Encourage workers to monitor their own symptoms at all times, including while at work. You should:
- ensure workers know what to do if they start to experience symptoms at work
- ask workers to use the provided self-assessment tool at home if they have any symptoms and to follow the instructions
- make sure workers know who their workplace contact is and how to get in touch with them in case they need to self-isolate
This can be a faster, more efficient option as employees self-assess before coming into the workplace and while they are at work and is most effective when paired with other screening methods.
Whatever your screening process, the same actions are to be taken when it comes to taking appropriate action.
Screening is passed
If a worker or non-worker passes all steps in the screening (i.e., has none of the symptoms or exposures asked about in the screening tool and/or gets a negative result on the rapid antigen test) they:
- may enter the workplace at that time
- must continue to follow all public health and workplace control measures, including:
- wearing a mask
- maintaining physical distance
- hand hygiene
- should continue to self-monitor for new symptoms
- should follow their workplace’s reporting procedure if they are a worker and develop symptoms during their shift
Screening is not passed
If a worker or non-worker does not pass any part of the screening (has one or more of the symptoms or exposures asked about in the screening tool, or gets a positive result on the rapid antigen test) they:
- may not enter the workplace at that time
- must self-isolate immediately
- should seek further testing or medical advice, for example, contact their health care provider
- must follow all directions they are given by public health officials
You should also discourage employees from coming to the office if they are under evaluation for COVID-19 (e.g., waiting on test results to confirm infection status) or have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are not yet cleared to leave isolation.
Public health officials will determine, based on the results of the PCR test as well as the screening results, whether the worker has COVID-19c and will provide direction on what actions must be taken by the worker and employer.
Data collection & storage
Businesses and organizations must maintain a record of the date and time that workers were in the workplace and their contact information for a period of at least a month. This record could be as elaborate as a completed questionnaire for each employee for each day or as minimal as a checklist showing that the employee ran through and passed the screening that day. Depending on your method of screening, your materials will differ, but all should be organized and easily accessible.
You must consider how these records will be kept so you can show how your screening process works and that you have been following in case an issue arises. HR can also keep track of employees working in the office through screening methods, which can help control occupancy and aid in contact tracing when necessary.
Hopefully, this article has made you confident in your abilities to set up a robust and effective screening program that will help keep you and your employees safe. Work your way through this guide, and you will have a resilient system in time for your office reopening.
There is a bit of leg work required upfront to figure out a good system, but with a little time and effort, you can have your screening process up and running like a well-oiled machine. Having efficient and organized systems not only saves you time on the daily but also can be crucial to provide accurate data and facilitate quick action in case of a crisis situation.
Ontario Government Resources:
- COVID-19 worker and employee screening
- COVID-19 response framework: keeping Ontario safe and open
- COVID-19 Screening Tool for Workplaces
Read more on our office reopening guides, tips, and solutions: