When the question first arises, do you have to pay your employees for the time it takes to take their temperature, my HR brain kicks in and screams, "you can't take their temperature at all! It's an illegal medical exam!"
This would normally be the answer, but these times are not normal. Generally speaking, an employer cannot perform a medical exam on an employee under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But, the pandemic status of Covid-19 means that the rules have changed. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) waived those rules for the pandemic and you can take an employee's temperature and ask your employees about their health status.
That leaves open a key question about whether you should pay employees for the time it takes to check their temperatures, which at some organizations involves standing in line and waiting for co-workers to get checked.
The legal answer is it depends. In 2014, Amazon won a Supreme Court Case over employees standing in a line--for a security check. The Court ruled unanimously that because the security check wasn't part of the employees' primary duties, under federal law (not the Constitution), Amazon didn't have to pay them.
How closely this applies to temperature checks during a pandemic is a matter for debate, and the courts won't decide one way or another for years. Ethically and economically speaking, there is only one clear answer: Yes. Yes, you must pay your employees for the time they stand in line.
Why? Because not doing so is damaging to your business. Your employees are stressed out, and feel like they are putting their lives at risk to come to work. Making them stand in a line, unpaid, just screams "I don't care about my employees!"
An efficient line shouldn't take more than a few minutes, which means it won't have a large impact on your bottom line. Yes, many businesses are on the edge of financial catastrophe because of shut downs, but your employees are also on the edge. And because exempt employees receive the same amount of pay regardless of the number of hours worked, this only affects non-exempt employees, most of which don't make high salaries.
When this ends, employees will remember how you treated them during the pandemic. Candidates will ask what you did to protect your employees. Having to respond "We took everyone's temperature but refused to pay them for the time," will not make you an employer of choice.
Looking out for your employees and your business by monitoring health isn't a bad idea. But, pay your employees for the time they stand in line. And remember, no fever doesn't mean someone is COVID free, and a fever doesn't mean they have it. It's just one way to reduce chances of spreading the disease.
Remember, state laws also come into play here as well, so if you decide to trust in the Amazon court decision and not pay your employees, double-check your state laws. But, you can never go wrong with paying. It's legally safe and morally right.
Pay your employees.