The goal of screening your employees for COVID-19 symptoms is to identify employees who may be sick so you can prevent them from coming to work, which protects your other employees from exposure to the coronavirus.  Screening employees for symptoms of COVID-19 is an optional strategy that employers may use; it is not mandatory.

Screening employees is not completely effective at stopping COVID-19 because asymptomatic individuals or individuals with mild non-specific symptoms may not realize they are infected and may pass through screening. Screening is not a replacement for protective measures such as social distancing and face coverings.

If your business decides to screen employees, you can either require employees to self-screen, or you can have an employee conduct the screening.  Here is a summary of the CDC recommendations for screening employees:


For self-screening, employees screen themselves for COVID-19 symptoms and should stay home from work if:

  • The employee has symptoms of COVID-19, such as:
    • Fever or chills
    • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
    • Muscle or body aches
    • New loss of taste or smell
    • Sore throat
    • Congestion or runny nose
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Diarrhea

*Please note: Symptoms may appear between 2 and 14 days after exposure to the virus and may be mild or severe. This list does not include all possible symptoms. 

  • The employee has a fever of 100.4oF or higher
  • The employee is under evaluation for COVID-19 (for example, waiting for the results of a viral test to confirm infection)
  • The employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and is not yet cleared to discontinue isolation

Employer Screening

If you decide to use a member of your staff to screen your employees rather than relying on them to self-screen, consider which symptoms to include in your assessment. Although there are many different symptoms that may be associated with COVID-19 (see partial list above), you may not want to treat every employee with a single non-specific symptom (e.g., a headache) as a suspected case of COVID-19 and send them home.

Consider focusing the screening questions on “new” or “unexpected” symptoms (e.g., a chronic cough would not be a positive screen) such as the following:

  • Fever or feeling feverish (chills, sweating)
  • New cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle aches or body aches
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • New loss of taste or smell

Protection of Screeners

Employers can use either social distancing or physical barriers to protect the employee(s) conducting the screening and minimize their contact with an employee who might be contagious.

  • Social Distancing: Ask employees to take their own temperature either before coming to work or upon arrival at work. Upon their arrival, the screener should stand at least 6 feet away from the employee and:
    • Ask the employee to confirm that their temperature is less than 100.4o F and confirm that they are not experiencing coughing or shortness of breath.
    • Make a visual inspection of the employee for signs of illness, which could include flushed cheeks or fatigue.
    • Screening staff do not need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) if they can maintain a distance of 6 feet.
  • Barrier/Partition Controls: During screening, the screener stands behind a physical barrier, such as a glass or plastic window or partition, that can protect the screener’s face and mucous membranes from respiratory droplets that may be produced when the employee being screened sneezes, coughs, or talks. The screener should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or, if soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Then:
    • Make a visual inspection of the employee for signs of illness, which could include flushed cheeks or fatigue.
    • Conduct temperature and symptom screening using this protocol:
      • Put on disposable gloves.
      • Check the employee’s temperature, reaching around the partition or through the window. Make sure the screener’s face stays behind the barrier at all times during the screening.
      • If performing a temperature check on multiple individuals, a clean pair of gloves should be used for each employee and the thermometer should be thoroughly cleaned in between each check. If disposable or non-contact thermometers are used and there is no physical contact with an individual, gloves do not need to be changed before the next check.
    • After screening, the employee conducting the screening should remove their gloves and wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

If screening reveals an employee has symptoms, when can they safely return to work?

The CDC finds that people with mild to moderate COVID-19 stop being infectious 10 days after their symptoms begin, so the CDC guidelines allow people to stop quarantining and return to work if at least 10 days have passed since the employee first started having symptoms and at least 24 hours have passed since they stopped having a fever.  People with more severe cases of COVID-19 or who are severely immunocompromised may be contagious up to 20 days after symptom onset, so these employees may need to continue their quarantine for 20 days. 

People who test positive for COVID-19 but who never develop symptoms may stop their isolation and other precautions 10 days after the date of their first positive test.

For more information from the CDC about the length of time employees diagnosed with COVID-19 or exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine, click here.

For general guidance for businesses from the CDC, click here.

The CDC has a poster to educate your employees about the symptoms of COVID-19 here.