Must An Employer Cover the Costs For COVID-19 Testing?

Many employees and employers are wondering who covers the cost of a COVID-19 test as employees transition back to working on-site, and employers try to ensure a COVID-19 free environment in the workplace. Unfortunately, the answer is not very clear.

Federal law does not require employers to cover the cost of a COVID-19 test in “return to work” programs. Federal regulation only requires health plans and insurers to cover the full cost of getting a COVID-19 test for insured individuals if there is a medical reason to be tested, meaning the individual has symptoms of COVID-19. Thus, any requirement to cover COVID-19 testing for simply returning to work would depend on local and/or state law.

If employees are not covered by a health insurance plan or the employee’s health insurance plan does not cover the cost for a COVID-19 test, employers could be required to pay for a test per the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC”) guidance. Applying standards from the Americans with Disabilities Act, the EEOC determined that if an employer requires an employee that it believes will pose a “direct threat” (the EEOC considers an individual with COVID-19 to be a “direct threat”) to the health or safety of others or himself/herself to be examined by a health care professional of the employer’s choice, the employer must also pay all costs associated with the health care visit. However, EEOC guidance does not have the force and effect of law and is not meant to bind the public in any way, so employers may choose to ignore this guidance at their own risk.

Despite cost concerns, many employers are willing to cover the cost of a COVID-19 test, even when they are not required to, Chris Condeluci, an attorney with CC Law & Policy in Washington, D.C., said. Further, employers should avoid shoving these costs on employees due to morale considerations, as many employees may have health concerns returning to the workplace. Employers should also refer to their practices regarding payment for mandatory drug tests as a guide.

We will continue to update you on any changes. Contact us with your questions on how these rules apply to your organization.