Unfortunately, holiday cheer is not the only thing on the rise this winter. Across the country, states are seeing a significant uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases being reported as we prepare for what many health experts have coined a “dark winter.” While the ongoing pandemic has caused a significant decline in out of state travel, industry experts are expecting a surge in travel for the holiday season. American Airlines recently reported that 45 percent of its flights were more than 80 percent full in September compared to just 20 percent of July flights. Employers who implemented physically reporting in the workplace are now left with a delicate balancing act between respecting employees’ earned time off and their responsibility to provide a safe and secure workplace.
Many employers may think that the answer is simple – deny vacation requests or place restrictions on where employees can travel. While this would seem to be a solution, this is not an option for practical or legal reasons, as numerous states explicitly outlaw the employer from interfering with employees’ personal activities. Like many challenges of the 2020 work environment, there is no easy answer. However, employers may consider introducing a “Temporary COVID-19 Pandemic Employee Travel Policy” to address employee concerns and educate them on what steps the employer is taking to protect the workplace and limit exposure. You may consider including temporary any of the following elements in your temporary travel policy:
- Require greater disclosures about employee travel plans – where they are going, mode of transportation, travel plans once they are there, the duration of their trip
- Educate employees about the risks associated with traveling during the pandemic and point employees in the direction of additional resources from the CDC and other organizations
- Have employees sign a notice stating that they will abide by all local, state, and Federal laws while traveling and that they will notify the employer immediately of any suspected exposure to COVID-19 and that they may be required to quarantine upon return
- Have employees complete questionnaire upon return asking them to attest that they followed CDC guidelines, did not have any known contact with anyone exposed to COVID or exhibiting symptoms, and that they themselves are not experiencing any known symptoms
- More enhanced screening requirements, such as temperature checks, symptoms checklists, etc.
- Require a period of self-isolation upon their return to comply with quarantine orders
- Require a negative test result before being allowed to physically return to the workplace
- Provide accommodations to allow employees to work remotely when possible
- Change schedules, make temporary reassignments, or make changes to the worksite in order to increase social distancing
Employer Mandated Travel Quarantine and Testing Policies
If employers choose to implement either quarantines or testing requirements, there may be additional factors to consider. Most employment attorneys say that an employer-mandated quarantine is unlikely to qualify for FFCRA payments unless the employee can get a doctor to issue a quarantine order or develops symptoms. This remains true even though Oregon, Washington, and California issued a joint travel advisory recommending visitors or residents entering the state quarantine for 14 days. Employers will need to give serious thought to whether they will want to enforce a quarantine and if it will be company paid leave or unpaid leave. Employers can also take a more targeted approach to a quarantine policy and make the need to quarantine contingent on travel to one of the CDC-designated hot spots.
Testing poses similar challenges and may not be the most practical method for protecting the workplace. While the EEOC does give employers the leeway to test employees before allowing them back into the workplace, the CDC’s most recent guidelines discourage a test-based strategy and instead steer employers towards a symptom-based screening strategy. Testing may also be less effective than other approaches since employees can test negative before developing symptoms. If employers do decide to roll out a testing based strategy, it is encouraged that the employer covers the cost of the COVID-19 tests.
Consult a Legal Professional
Whatever you decide to do, it is essential to be consistent. For instance, if you put a policy in place requiring employees to notify you of their travel plans, you need to ensure that all employees are subject to that requirement. An attorney should review all travel policies to ensure that all provisions are in full compliance with federal, state and local laws and restrictions. Additionally, before implementing the new policy, employers should clearly communicate the policy’s purpose and goal to employees in advance of its implementation.
Aldrich is Here to Help
We know the current COVID-19 landscape is changing rapidly. Your Aldrich Benefits team is here to provide support to you. For further information about implementing a COVID-19 Travel Policy into your workplace, please contact your benefits advisor. For more resources to help you navigate the impact of coronavirus on your business and employees, visit our COVID-19 Resource Center.
This article was written with the most current information as of November 18, 2020.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are only for general informational purposes. Readers of this website should contact their attorney to obtain advice concerning any particular legal matter.
Meet the Author
VP, Business Development
Aldrich Benefits LP
Evan Cole partners with his clients to advise and assist them with their employee benefit plans, specializing in group and association plans. Prior to joining Aldrich, Evan was a top producing employee benefits representative for one of the nation’s largest life, disability, and dental carriers. He holds licenses for life and health in the states... Read more Evan Cole
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