Is an employer allowed to hand you a thermometer and tell you to take your temperature at work? Can they send you home if you have a temperature?
And now it’s time for the big disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. I do not pretend to be a lawyer. I am not an expert on law. I don’t pretend to be one. This is not legal advice.
I see this as one of those you can’t win situation. If you allow people who are sick to work then their co-workers will be writing me saying, “Can’t the company require sick people to stay at home? I don’t want to get infected?”
There are some things to think about. 1. If they send home an exempt employee they must pay her anyway. 2. Hourly employees (not under contract, this does not apply to unions) are only paid for the hours they work. Companies are not required to provide a certain number of hours per week. (Think back to your days working fast food. If it was a slow night, they sent you home.)
I honestly don’t know if it’s legal to require someone to have their temperature taken in the normal course of a work day. You can require drug tests and physicals as conditions of employment. (And if I recall, my last work physical involved a temperature check, although why I can’t imagine. Having a fever at THAT MOMENT hardly means you always have one.)
I think the real question is should this be a policy? Well, honestly, I want sick people to stay home. I want people to be adults and be able to call up their own bosses and say, “I’m sick so I’m staying home,” and have that be the truth and I want the boss to believe the person and I would really like it if there were an adequate number of sick days.
I think it’s a weird thing to do, but I can totally see the business reason: Sick people infect other people, which makes more people sick, which hurts the business. Unfortunately, with most diseases you start being contagious before symptoms show, so you can’t stop that. However, it makes sense to ban sick people from the office.
Like I said, I’d rather see this occur by having everyone take their own temperatures at home. I hate the requirement to go see a doctor because for most illnesses the doctor is either going to say, “you’re sick. Drink fluids. Rest. You’ll get better on your own” or he’ll prescribe an unnecessary antibiotic. I understand why though, because all HR people can tell you about lying liars who we’ve dealt with.
The problem comes in when you have an hourly workforce who don’t get paid if they don’t work. People work because they need the money. No one wants to work when sick. We do it out of obligation (I must get this project done) and need (I must pay the mortgage). If the company is offering paid sick days, doesn’t require you to come in for the temperature taking (that is, they believe you if you call in sick), and doesn’t punish you for taking time off (lower rating, bonus, etc), then sure. I think it’s a bit creepy and weird, but okay.
If it’s a job that involves food handling or dealing with already sick people, then I think it’s even more important to keep sick people home. But like I said, I think it’s creepy. Maybe a lawyer can chime in if it’s legal to take the actual temperature.