The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) today issued new guidance for businesses in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties to help stem the spread of COVID-19. This guidance both reinforces previous advice about personal hygiene and social distancing, and recommends new measures for employers.

While this update focuses on guidance issued for the Puget Sound region, the CDC has also issued separate guidance for New Rochelle, N.Y. and Santa Clara, Calif.

CDC Guidance for the Seattle Area

The CDC recommends every employer implement the following:

  • Encourage staff to telework
  • Expand sick leave policies
  • Implement social distancing measures by spacing workers, staggering work schedules, limiting in-person meetings, thoroughly disinfecting break or eating areas
  • Eliminate large non-work gatherings
  • Postpone non-essential work travel
  • Conduct regular health checks on arrival each day (e.g., temperature and respiratory symptom screening) of staff and visitors entering buildings
  • Ensure flexible leave arrangements for staff who need to stay home, including for school closures, and encourage people to stay home when they are sick
  • Cancel work sponsored conference/trade shows

ADA Compliance With CDC Guidance

The recommendation that employers conduct health checks is new. Prior to this new guidance, health checks for non-healthcare employers have been potentially problematic under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA limits employers from making health-related inquiries or medical examinations, except when job-related and consistent with business necessity.

In fact, previous EEOC Guidance issued in connection with the H1N1 health crisis in 2009 cautioned against taking employees’ temperatures to determine whether they had a fever. The CDC now advises employers in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties to take this preventative measure. The EEOC has acknowledged that the ADA does not interfere with or prevent employers from following CDC suggestions and guidelines.

While the CDC offered no guidance on how an employer might follow this recommendation, employers may implement a wide range of measures. For example, employers could take the temperature of each employee or guest upon arrival at the worksite (or require that the employee or guest take his/her own temperature) and inquire about other CDC-identified COVID-19 symptoms, like shortness of breath or a cough.

Employers who are not equipped to conduct such tests might require that employees and guests stop at a central entry point and confirm to a staff member that they do not have a fever or cough. Of course, employers can also provide thermometers for employees who would like to voluntarily check their temperatures. Those with any symptoms of acute respiratory illness (including a cough) or a fever should then be sent home immediately and isolated from other staff. The CDC and local health agencies may be offering additional guidance on these health screenings in the coming days.

In addition to providing new guidance for businesses generally, the CDC’s new guidance for King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties also includes directions for schools, childcare, senior and assisted living facilities, community and faith-based organizations, and healthcare settings and providers. Employers in these sectors should closely review the CDC’s new guidance and contact legal counsel with further legal questions.

Employers with questions should feel free to contact a Davis Wright Tremaine attorney for additional information. Further information about COVID-19 issues in the workplace is available through our Related Posts below.

The facts, laws, and regulations regarding COVID-19 are developing rapidly. Since the date of publication, there may be new or additional information not referenced in this advisory. Please consult with your legal counsel for guidance.

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