By Molly Wood, SPHR. SDEA HR Consultant
Deck the Halls with Masks and Hand Sanitizer! Or Employer Policies for Holiday Travel
While retailers are coping by making Black Friday a month that starts after Halloween and restaurants are praying for good weather to continue outdoor dining, employers are trying to determine what is the best way to address potential COVID exposure due to travel and congregations.
The most basic question we are hearing is, “What am I allowed to do?”. In California you can’t prohibit an employee from engaging in lawful off-duty conduct, so you can’t forbid them to travel, but you can have a consistent policy for returning from travel.
Companies are considering requiring self-quarantine upon return from travel. Another option is to require employees to provide a negative test before returning to work.
The CDC is currently recommending testing for people who have symptoms of COVID-19 or who have been within six feet for a total of 15 minutes or more with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. This may or may not be the case with employees returning from holiday travel, and as more of this travel is likely to occur, testing may be less available, or results may take longer to get.
Employees would only be eligible for Emergency Paid Sick Leave under the FFCRA if they are exhibiting symptoms and seeking diagnosis, have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19, are subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine (none of which have happened to date), or are caring for someone who has been advised to self-quarantine by a health care provider or who is subject to a government mandated quarantine.
There may be some risk that you are “in effect” forbidding travel if you require them to self-quarantine or wait for test results without pay. This has not played out in court, but you probably don’t want to be the defendant when it does.
As all of this is unprecedented, there is no black and while answer to what you can legally require in a travel policy. The main thing is to be sure that you consistently enforce whatever policy to implement and remember that the goal is to provide a safe work environment where employees are not exposed to COVID. The best way to do this may be to follow already existing return to work policies, taking employee temperatures, asking them about symptoms, and requiring face masks. Then roast some chestnuts over an open fire and hope for a vaccine.