Better Safe Than Sued: Business Should Be Following Guidlines Like Temperature Screening, Gloves, and Social Distancing

Your commercial clients may expose themselves to legal risk if they don’t adhere to all government recommendations to protect clients and employees from the spread of coronavirus while re-opening, legal professionals warned.

As social distancing rules loosen in various parts of the country, businesses are looking for ways to ensure customers and staff entering their premises are not showing signs of carrying the virus. Some are implementing temperature readings, for example, or mandating the use of gloves.

But don’t just rely on just one measure or another, legal experts say. Health and safety measures such as temperature checks and glove use should be used in conjunction with other methods to prevent the transmission of the virus.

Screening for temperature and wearing gloves don’t in and of themselves protect clients from liability risks, according to lawyers from Miller Tomson. They have published multiple news bulletins about insurance law developments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commercial clients have many factors to consider when screening their customers and employees for COVID-19, wrote Karen Weslowski, Vancouver-based partner at law firm Miller Tomson and Stefanie Gladders, an articling student. Debra Curcio Lister, an Edmonton-based partner, cautioned separately that while face coverings have been recommended by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), there hasn’t been any guidance on the use of consumer-grade disposable gloves.

“To avoid liability, businesses should comply with all of the government’s recommendations upon re-opening in terms of protecting their employees, as well as reducing the spread of COVID-19 among the public,” Curcio Lister wrote. “Such recommendations are subject to change, including the use of gloves, as health agencies learn more about the virus and determine the best ways to combat it. Therefore, it is important that businesses regularly monitor the evolving guidelines and remember that gloves may not protect you from COVID-19 nor liability.”

Relying too heavily on one measure could create risk exposure. For example, the purpose of temperature testing is to screen for those who may have a fever, one potential symptom of the virus. The novel coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Mar. 11.

“One of the main problems with using temperature testing as a screening method for COVID-19 is that as many as 50% of carriers are asymptomatic,” Weslowski and Gladders wrote. “This allows them to pass the screening and potentially infect large numbers of other employees or customers.”

Another issue around temperature screening is that a fever is not always the first symptom that shows up in those who test positive for COVID-19. Sometimes, it doesn’t develop at all. Therefore, clients shouldn’t be heavily relying on temperature screenings when allowing access to its place of business, Weslowski and Gladders said.

“It is only partially effective and should be used in conjunction with other screening methods,” they wrote.

Some supermarkets and restaurants open for takeout are using temperature screening. British Columbia’s Restaurant and Foodservices Association proposed temperature screening both guests and staff as part of the recommended measures to safely begin reopening, said Weslowski and Gladders. “However, the chief public health officer of Canada was quick to condemn the idea, citing the ineffectiveness of temperature screening during the SARS outbreak in 2003.”

Using gloves is another potential measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, Curcio Lister cited information from the WHO that said wearing gloves in public is not considered an effective way of preventing spread. “First, people often wear the same set of gloves everywhere,” she wrote in the bulletin. “This results in touching various surfaces causing the virus to be transmitted through the gloves to different locations.”

Even though the PHAC has included an advisory that employees should wear disposable gloves if they come into contact with infected people or surfaces under its re-opening recommendations, officials maintain that frequent hand-washing is considered the best way to prevent spread, she commented.