By Jennifer Price, HR Consultant, East Coast Risk Management
With COVID-19 cases on the rise throughout the nation, employers continue to focus on keeping the workplace safe; however, despite the risk, many employees are continuing with their personal summer travel plans. Is this practice safe, and what should employers do to maintain safety in the workplace? The following questions may help you address your business concern around employee personal travel:
Frequently Asked Questions
- Are there any considerations that should be evaluated before addressing employee travel to COVID-19 hot spots?
- Yes. To ensure practices are consistent throughout your organization, employers should create a policy regarding employee travel during the pandemic. Employers will want to ask employees to disclose the same travel information throughout the organization and will want to be sure that the information being collected is in line with your business’ necessity. Inconsistent administration in this area could present risk for the employer if an employee is treated differently, potentially resulting in a discrimination claim.
- Can an employer legally ask an employee about their personal travel plans?
- Yes, however, employers should be consistent when asking employees to disclose personal travel information. It is also important to note that employers cannot prohibit employees from traveling to non-restricted areas because this is legal activity. However, many states are now recommending individuals who have traveled to “hot spots” to self-quarantine after they return. As a result, employers may want to consider implementing a policy around this topic to ensure a safe work environment. The list of heavily affected areas continues to change, so for more information please refer to the CDC website at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/map-and-travel-notices.html and https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html.
- What is a “high-risk” area according to the CDC?
- Currently, the CDC has divided the nations of the world into two categories: (1) Those with restrictions on entry to the United States, and (2) those without restrictions on entry to the United States. With respect to travel within the United States, the CDC recommends that travelers first consult the State or Territorial Health Department of their intended destination prior to finalizing their travel plans.
- Can an employer restrict personal travel to a Level 2 and Level 3 county as designated by the CDC?
- An employer can require an employee who has recently visited a Level 2 or Level 3 country to stay away from the worksite for an appropriate about of time. The CDC is currently recommending a 14-day self-quarantine. It is also important to note that the CDC has designated all cruise travel as a Level 3 risk.
- Are there alternatives to creating a policy that requires a self-isolation period?
- Employers can educate their employee of the risks related to travel during the pandemic. The CDC has provided education on their website related to travel at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html. Also, to the extent that an employee can telework, the employer may want to consider having the employee work from home. In addition, employers may want to closely monitor employees who have recently traveled. If an employer is monitoring employees for symptoms, it is a good idea to use a standard questionnaire. If you would like a symptom questionnaire or a sample travel policy, please reach out to the HR team at East Coast Risk Management.
- Do I need to pay my employee if I have a policy requiring them to self-quarantine?
- If your employee is able to work from home while self-isolating, they should be paid for their work. If the employee is unable to work from home, and there is not a current isolation order in place related to COVID-19, the employee may use PTO time. If PTO is not available or required under the employer policy, generally, an employer is only required to pay non-exempt employees for the actual hours worked. As for exempt employees, you would be required to pay them their weekly salary if they perform any work during a given week.
- Can I ask my employees if they live with someone who have traveled to a high-risk area?
- Employers can ask employees to report if someone whom they come in close contact has traveled to a high-risk area. As a reminder if an employee comes in close contact with anyone that develops COVID-19 symptoms regardless of travel, they should notify their employer to conduct a risk assessment. If the employer is collecting this information, to avoid potential claims that any employee was discriminated or retaliated based on an employer’s knowledge of such exposure a consistent policy and practice is extremely important.
- Can an employer require an employer returning from travel to undergo a temperature check?
- Yes. Employers can measure an employees’ body temperature as they arrive to work and send employees home if they have a fever or other COVID related symptoms under the current pandemic circumstances. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the CDC have issued guidance indicating that this is not a violation for the ADA. For more information, please visit https://www.eeoc.gov/wysk/what-you-should-know-about-covid-19-and-ada-rehabilitation-act-and-other-eeo-laws. If you are an employer who is implementing employee temperature checks, you should ensure the collected information is confidential and that the time is considered compensable for non-exempt employees.
If you are an employer that has questions on any issue relating to human resources, safety, or workers’ compensation, contact East Coast Risk Management by calling 724-864-8745 or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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