CDC Issues Government-Wide COVID Testing Guidelines for Federal Workers

The CDC has issued COVID testing guidelines to provide agencies with strategies for testing federal workers for the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued government-wide COVID testing guidelines for federal agencies regarding testing federal workers for the coronavirus.

The Federal Testing Plan for Federal Workforce was issued on April 7, 2021 and says that “each federal agency should apply this guidance according to the situation in their workplace or workforce.” The guidance is being issued per President Biden’s Protecting the Federal Workforce Executive Order.

Can COVID Testing Be Made Mandatory for Federal Employees?

This is a question that has been brought up early on in the pandemic and also as vaccines began to become more widely available. FedSmith author Mathew Tully looked at what federal agencies likely could or could not do as far as making a COVID vaccine mandatory for federal employees. FedSmith author Joe Swerdzewski also discussed the subject of federal employee unions bargaining over mandatory COVID vaccinations.

The CDC guidance addresses mandatory testing for COVID-19 with respect to what agencies can or cannot do. It does not indicate that agencies cannot mandate testing for their employees but says that it must be done within ADA guidelines.

The guidance states, “Pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), when employers implement any mandatory testing of employees, it must be ‘job related and consistent with business necessity.'”

With respect to that, it includes the additional following information:

– In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EEOC notes that testing to determine if an employee has a SARS-CoV-2 infection with an “accurate and reliable test” is permissible as a condition to enter the workplace because an employee with the virus will “pose a direct threat to the health of others.”

– EEOC notes that testing administered by employers that is consistent with current CDC guidance will meet the ADA’s business necessity standard.

– Workplace-based testing should not be conducted without the employee’s consent.

– Employers who mandate workplace testing for SARS-CoV-2 infection should discuss further with employees who do not consent to testing and consider providing alternatives as feasible and appropriate, such as reassignment to tasks that can be performed via telework.

Other Key Points

The CDC guidelines say that agencies should refer any employees with COVID symptoms for diagnostic testing. Agencies should identify where to refer those employees to go for diagnostic tests.

Asymptomatic employees should be tested if they are exposed to people with a known or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19 and should then be quarantined. It is recommend that these employees be tested immediately after exposure and tested again 5-7 days “after last exposure or immediately if symptoms develop during quarantine.”

Agencies are supposed to provide COVID testing for employees exposed at work in close contact. This is defined as “employees who had close contact (within 6 feet for a combined total of 15 minutes or more during a 24-hour period) with persons with COVID-19 at work.”

The guidance also includes suggestions for agencies when considering what types of tests to include in their testing programs.

Additional Information

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About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.