COVID-19: What’s Your Organization Missing? What About Those Emergency Warnings Signs?



Most employers are engaging in some sort of screening for COVID-19 before an employee can enter the workplace.

In some jurisdictions, the screening is required by law.  Even where not required by law, most employers have some screening program to mitigate the risk of infection (and liability).

By way of further background, most jurisdictions that mandate screening allow employees to self-screen.  In a few jurisdictions, the employer is required to conduct the screen.

In virtually all cases, employers screen for, among other circumstances, potential symptoms of  COVID-19, as frequently updated by the CDC.  As updated on June 26, 2020, the following may be symptoms of COVID-19:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

You don’t need to be a medical expert to know that some individuals may have these symptoms for reasons other than COVID-19. That’s why employers who screen are well-advised to rely on medical advice consistent with CDC guidance in response to a disclosure of any symptoms.

While most employers screen for symptoms, some do not screen for the emergency warning signs of COVID-19. There is an explanation for this arguable gap in screening:  the CDC includes the emergency warning signs below the symptoms but without stating up front that they are there. 

Here are the current emergency warning signs of COVID-19 as of June 26, 2020, according to the CDC: 

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

Each of these warning signs is serious. That is why the CDC recommends that individuals who are experiencing them seek “emergency medical care immediately.”

It is possible that the individual has a condition other than COVID-19. But, regardless, the need for medical care would seem clear.

Equally clear is that employers should give consideration to screening for these emergency warning signs. It would seem odd, at least to me, to keep out of the workplace an employee who has only congestion but not an employee whose face is blue and with pain in their chest.  But that is exactly what could happen if the employer does not screen for emergency warning signs, too.

I recognize that there may be reasons why some employer screening programs are designed without inquiring about emergency warnings signs. But this should be a conscious decision made with medical input.

Check the CDC link below regularly to update your screening as appropriate.  Don’t forget to scroll down to the emergency warning signs, too!


This blog should not be construed as legal advice. 





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