Holiday Travel and COVID-19

Even as COVID-19 cases increase in many parts of the nation, employees are making their holiday travel plans. Employers are concerned about protecting their workplaces from exposure to COVID-19 resulting from employees’ personal travel.

Employers can require employees to disclose their holiday travel plans as long as they require it of all employees. Employers can remind employees of CDC recommendations about travel and make employees aware of any mandatory state or local quarantine or self-isolation periods post-travel. Employers can require employees returning from travel to affirm in writing that they followed safety protocols while away and that they are currently symptom-free. Employers can require employees returning from travel to take extra precautions for 14 days following their return, such as work remotely or, if remote work is not possible, using paid time off. Employers should consult with an HR professional or attorney before requiring an employee to take unpaid time off.

Most employers are not going so far as to restrict employees from traveling. Employers considering such a restriction should speak to an HR professional or attorney first. Some states are like Colorado and have broadly-worded laws protecting employees’ lawful off-duty activities, which could extend to personal travel. Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming laws protect only off-duty political activities (and tobacco use in WY and NM).

Some employers are asking whether they can require employees who travel to test negative before returning to work. During the pandemic, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said that employers can require employee testing as long as it is required of all employees in similar circumstances. However, testing may not be effective in avoiding workplace exposure. The CDC has moved away from a test-based strategy to a symptom-based strategy to determine when employees can return to work. This is because an employee can develop symptoms anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure and could test negative prior to developing symptoms.

Employer policies on travel and return to work following travel should be clearly communicated to employees ahead of time and enforced consistently. Contact us for further assistance with your questions about employee holiday travel.