Owners Begin to Screen Construction Workers for COVID-19 Symptoms Possibly Leading to Labor Shortages
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its spread, we are keeping a close eye on this fluid situation to keep you up to date on the latest developments. To follow up our Alert published March 16, 2020, titled COVID-19 and Construction Contracts: What you Need to Know to Survive! in which we discussed the likelihood of imminent project disruptions, it appears we are seeing the early signs of what could lead to potential labor shortages. Because of COVID-19, some owners are starting to screen workers entering current projects for symptoms of the virus.
As an example, one of the largest school districts in the nation, the Los Angeles Unified School District, has implemented an emergency screening procedure for all construction workers who access or work at LAUSD sites. Workers include prime contractors and their employees, subcontractors of all tiers and their employees, sub-consultants, suppliers, and vendors and their employees. Most, if not all owners, will likely implement similar measures to the extent they have not done so already. But these screening measures raise the question as to what are the likely effects on construction projects. Obviously, if too many workers are denied access to the site, this would significantly reduce productivity and hinder the contractor’s ability to meet the project schedule. But even if no workers are screened out, the screening process alone and similar measures will reduce efficiency and add additional project costs.
Further, because owners are implementing these measures, in response, some prime contractors are now screening all employees for excessive fever on a daily basis with non-contact thermometers. And if workers are found to have a temperature above the Centers for Disease Control limit of 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit they would be barred from the project site. These new screening procedures have wider implications and beget further questions; for example, what is the proper way to perform temperature and related checks so as to not run afoul of Cal/OSHA guidelines? We will address and answer these and related questions in a future Alert. In addition, some contractors are questioning workers as to whether they have traveled outside of the country in the last 14 days; experienced fever, respiratory symptoms or other symptoms; or came into contact with someone who has as precautionary measures. Those who have will be prevented from working on current projects for 14 days.
This type of screening is likely to become widespread. It is not hard to imagine why. Suppose some workers become infected, appear at the site for work, and interact with other workers possibly causing the need to quarantine all workers on the project. This would lead to a project shut down, a far worse scenario than loss of productivity because some workers who exhibit symptoms are barred from the site. For labor shortages and other COVID-19 effects on contract provisions, please see our March 16, 2020 Alert referenced above.