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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Coronavirus Update 4-8-2020: Employers, if you are requiring your employees to wait in line for a coronavirus fever check, please pay them for waiting


Bloomberg Law asks whether employers are “responsible for paying workers for the time it takes to record their body temperatures before entering the workplace.” To me, this question doesn’t require a legal analysis but a common-sense application of basic decency. If your employees are queuing before entering work because you are requiring them to pass a temperature check, pay them … period.

Since this is a legal blog, however, I might as well look beyond common sense and examine the laws impacted by this issue—the ADA and the FLSA.

The ADA typically prohibits employers from taking employees’ temperatures as an unlawful medical examination. Because the WHO has classified coronavirus as a pandemic, however, just about all medical exam issues under the ADA are temporarily moot. According to the EEOC, among other coronavirus prevention measures, employers may measure employees’ temperatures. This issue, at least for now, is pretty cut and dry.

The FLSA issue is a little more nuanced. In Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, the Supreme Court held that the FLSA only requires employers to compensate employees for time spent performing “preliminary” (pre-shift) and “postliminary” (post-shift) activities that are “integral and indispensable” to an employee’s principal activities. What activities are “integral and indispensable?” Those that are (1) “necessary to the principal work performed” and (2) “done for the benefit of the employer.”

In Busk, for example, the Court held that post-shift security screenings were not “integral and indispensable” for an Amazon warehouse employee, because such screenings are not “an intrinsic element of retrieving products from warehouse shelves or packaging them for shipment,” and the employer “could have eliminated the screenings altogether without impairing the employees’ ability to complete their work.”

According to the Bloomberg Law article, employers could look to Busk to argue that pre-shift temperature checks, even if mandatory, are not “integral and indispensable” and therefore can be unpaid. (For what it’s worth, I think a just as good, or better, argument is that preliminary temperature checks to protect employees from a deadly virus are integral, indispensable, and compensable.)

Busk or no Busk, this isn’t a “what does the law allow” issue; this is a “what’s right is right” issue. If you’re requiring your employees to queue in a line to take their temperature before you’ll let them enter the workplace, pay them. Don’t be cheap and don’t count pennies.

Your employees are scared. They are risking their own personal health and safety, and that of everyone who lives in their homes, to keep your essential business up and running. They could just as easily stay home, limit their exposure, and collect unemployment. What they need is your compassion, not your penny-pinching. Times are tough for everyone. I get it. But your business shouldn’t go belly up if you pay each employee for a few extra minutes of time each day, especially when the federal government is going to reimburse you through your Paycheck Protection Program loan. (You did apply for your loan, right?)

At the end of this pandemic, many businesses will no longer exist. If there’s such a thing as karma, one of the deciding factors in which ones survive will be how they treated their employees.

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Don’t forget that I’ll live on Zoom tomorrow, April 9, from 11:30 am – 12:30, open paid sick leave and eFMLA issues, and taking your coronavirus questions. And Norah has said she will drop in and share another song. You can register for the Zoominar here:


* Photo by Tedward Quinn on Unsplash

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