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Do businesses need to pay workers for illness screenings?

On Behalf of | Oct 19, 2021 | Employment and Labor Law

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for many companies to continue normal operations, particularly when they need employees to be working together in one location. While things have become easier with the availability of vaccines, not every employee can or will agree to take them. Therefore, companies need to come up with workarounds that allow them to resume business operations while safeguarding the health of workers.

These workarounds can lead to labor and employment issues if not handled carefully. As just one recent example, Amazon warehouse workers in Colorado have filed a lawsuit against the company related to unpaid screening mandates. The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status on behalf of more than 10,000 Amazon workers in Colorado.

Getting screened for symptoms off the clock

According to the lawsuit, the Amazon warehouses in question required workers to come early and wait in long lines to have their temperatures checked and to answer questions about potential exposure. Employees had to wait up to an hour for the screenings and were not allowed to clock in until after they were approved for entry.

The unpaid screening requirement would seem to violate the state’s labor laws, which specify that workers must be paid starting from the time that they are required to be on duty or on their employer’s premises. In response to a similar lawsuit filed in California, Amazon has argued that screening time does not need to be compensated under federal law because it is primarily for the benefit of the workers.

At the very least, this case demonstrates that there are sometimes problematic inconsistencies between state and federal labor laws. But it also highlights uncertainties about which costs employers need to cover and which ones they can legally pass on to workers.

What should Alaska business owners know?

If you are a business owner and employer, you may have your own questions, such as:

  • Are there mandatory activities that I don’t need to compensate employees for?
  • Does the company need to provide all supplies, uniforms and necessary equipment to workers, or is it reasonable to ask them to provide their own or buy them from the company?
  • How do Alaska’s employment laws apply to extraordinary measures called for in response to a pandemic like COVID-19?

The answers to these questions depend somewhat on factors like the type of business you run, how many workers you have and how those workers are classified. If you are unsure about whether your policies could expose you to legal liability, it is a good idea to consult with an experienced employment law attorney for guidance.