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Human resources questions for dentists: COVID-19 testing of employees

Sept. 15, 2020
The HR experts at Bent Ericksen & Associates regularly answer questions from dentists about the HR effects of COVID-19. This dentist asks about testing his employees.
Rebecca Boartfield and Tim Twigg, Human Resources Experts

Rebecca Boartfield and Tim Twigg are human resources experts with Bent Ericksen & Associates who deal closely with dentists and are familiar with their HR issues. The questions related to COVID-19 started arriving the moment dental offices were told to close. We feature two of the common questions. Click here to read more questions and answers from dentists who are learning as they move forward. 

QUESTION: Tell me all about COVID testing for my employees.

ANSWER: As COVID cases rise and people socialize, you are likely to be confronted with a situation in which having your employees get tested seems like the right path to take. Before going down that path, know this:

Employers do not have an automatic right to require COVID testing.Employers cannot require antibody tests.

COVID testing is not something employers can take lightly or without proper planning. Employers cannot simply, on a whim, require employees to get tested. This must be done judiciously. 

If an employer requires COVID testing for any employee, the employer must ensure that the testing procedure is legally compliant, reliable, and effective. In part, employers must:

  • Select the right test
  • Document the process
  • Obtain written authorization 
  • Ensure confidentiality 
  • Determine how a positive test will be handled

When a situation presents itself in which COVID exposure or practice safety is a concern, do not jump to immediately requiring a test. COVID-19 testing is not 100% reliable. It is possible for an employee who is infected with the virus to test negative, and for an employee who does not have the virus to test positive. COVID-19 testing should not provide employers with a false sense of security; even if all employees in the workplace have tested negative for COVID-19, the best methods for preventing COVID-19 in the workplace are maintaining physical distancing, proper hand hygiene, wearing face coverings and personal protective equipment, and following the CDC’s cleaning and sanitation protocols.

If exposure is a concern, keeping the employee home for a period of time, monitoring symptoms, and having the employee manage his or her own health-care needs (seeing a physician, seek a test, etc.) is likely the best choice. 

If or when you do require a COVID test, then following must be considered:

Who pays for the COVID test?

As always, "it depends.” If an employee initiates the test entirely on their own, or their treating physician orders it, or the employee is instructed to get tested by the health department, then the employer is off the hook. 

If you, as the employer, require a COVID test, then you have to pay 1) for any out-of-pocket costs associated with getting the test (see below regarding health insurance), and 2) the employee’s hourly wages while traveling to the clinic, waiting in line, being tested, and returning.

Language is important. If you say someone “should” get tested, you “encourage” them to get tested, you say “it would be a good idea to get tested,” or you make a negative test result a requirement for returning to work, this is the same as you “requiring” the test. 

Be proactive about testing: Do your research now. 

  1. Figure out where testing can happen in your area and how it works. 
  2. Pick one or two labs with good reputations.
  3. Establish a working relationship. 
  4. When your employees are seen there, the bill should be sent to your office.
  5. Decide how employees will report their time to you (paper timesheet or digital time clock.)

If you are requiring the test, your office provides a group health insurance plan, and employees just have a copay for COVID testing, you would be responsible for the copay and not the entire test. 

If you are requiring the test and your office does not provide health insurance, then employees should not be using their personal health insurance for the COVID test. Your office should be paying for 100% of the cost.

Check out our Handling Employee Sickness Guide for help and guidance.

For more questions from dentists regarding the current COVID situation, visit bentericksen.com/coronavirus-faqs/.

Editor's notes: To view DentistryIQ's full coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, including original news articles and video interviews with dental thought leaders, visit the DentistryIQ COVID-19 Resource Center.

To view previous HR questions, visit DentistryIQ.com and search "Human Resources Questions for Dentists."

About the Author

Rebecca Boartfield and Tim Twigg | Human Resources Experts

Tim Twigg is president and Rebecca Boartfield is a human resources compliance consultant with Bent Ericksen & Associates. For 30 years, the company has been a leading authority in human resource and personnel issues, helping dentists deal successfully with the ever-changing and complex labor laws. To receive a complimentary copy of the company’s quarterly newsletter or to learn more about its services, call (800) 679-2760 or visit bentericksen.com.