Employee Travel and COVID-19

Summer’s here, and it’s time for vacation – isn’t it? During the pandemic, the answer is less clear than in past summers. The CDC recommends that people stay at home as much as possible, especially if their trip is not essential, and, when traveling, they should practice social distancing and wear face coverings. Many states have issued guidance that strongly discourages nonessential travel as well.

Nevertheless, employees are making personal travel plans, and employers are wondering how they can protect their workplace from possible exposure to COVID-19 when employees return.

One of the most common questions is whether an employer can require an employee to quarantine when they come back.

Although an employer can enact restrictions like quarantine after travel, doing so can seem arbitrary and difficult to enforce. The CDC currently doesn’t recommend quarantine unless someone is traveling internationally. Also, keep in mind that in some states, including Colorado, an employer would not be able to take adverse employment action, including termination, for out of state travel since it is a legal off duty activity. Arizona, Utah, and Wyoming’s off-duty laws pertain only to political activities (and tobacco use in WY), so they are not applicable here.

If you do decide to enforce a quarantine after travel, employers should communicate their policy before employees take a vacation. To be consistent, ask anyone taking vacation whether they plan to travel and where. Virus hotspots change daily, and exposure to the COVID-19 can happen regardless of the mode of transportation or location. Ensure your policy is administered consistently but watch for changes in public health policy, CDC guidance, or state, local, federal, or international orders. If there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s that the pandemic landscape is constantly changing.

To help employees make a well-informed decision about whether to travel, the CDC created this document about issues to consider before traveling, including questions to ask before making plans, risks associated with types of travel, and links to sites for state and local travel restrictions.

There are alternatives to quarantine like working from home and strictly enforced social distancing and hygiene requirements at work, including handwashing, taking temperatures, wearing masks, and regular sanitizing. Your worksite may dictate how you manage social distancing in particular.

Contact Employers Council for help navigating pandemic twists and turns.