What Should a Business Owner Do If an Employee Travels to a High-Risk Area?

What Should a Business Owner Do If an Employee Travels to a High-Risk Area?

Carrie Pallardy
Carrie Pallardy
 | 
The COVID-19 pandemic may be turning a corner, but it is not yet over. While cases continue, vaccinations and easing restrictions have made many people feel ready to travel again. Whether to see distant family members or simply to get away, people are hopping on planes, trains and into their cars.

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has released guidance for fully vaccinated individuals. Under this guidance, individuals who have been fully vaccinated do not need to self-quarantine after traveling within the United States or after returning from somewhere outside of the country. 

While summertime travel certainly seems like a well-earned reward for more than a year of sticking close to home, business owners still need to keep in mind the safety of their employees and their customers. How can California business owners prepare for employee travel, particularly if that travel takes them to a COVID hotspot? 

Business owners have the power to restrict business travel. They can ensure that employees do not travel to high-risk areas for any business purpose, but restrictions can get trickier when it comes to personal travel.  

Employers cannot restrict personal travel. While there are travel advisories, people are legally allowed to visit other places. What can an employer do?
  • Employers can ask for vaccination status. With the COVID-19 vaccine widely available, millions of people in California are fully vaccinated or on their way to be fully vaccinated. Employers are likely interested in knowing their employees’ vaccination status when evaluating the potential risk of their summertime travel.
  • Employers are allowed to ask employees about their vaccination status and require proof of vaccination. Santa Clara County is actually requiring businesses to determine the vaccination status of employees.
  • Employers can share information on travel risks. California employers are free to share information on the risks of travel with their employees. Employers can point to the CDC’s travel guidance, as well as state and local guidance.
  • Employers can ask employees about their travel plans. It does not need to be a surprise that one of your employees is planning to visit (or just returned from) a high-risk area. California employers can ask employees to share plans to travel to areas at high risk during the pandemic, according to the California Department of Industrial Relations.
The CDC provides COVID-19 travel recommendations, ranking COVID-19 levels as unknown, low, moderate, high and very high.
  • Employers can evaluate the risk of employees returning to work after traveling. Employers can ask employees to follow the CDC guidance for international travel. If the employee in question is fully vaccinated, the CDC recommends getting a COVID test within three to five days of returning home. If the test is positive, that person should self-quarantine.

If the employee who is traveling is unvaccinated, the CDC recommends getting a test within the same timeframe and self-quarantining for a week after returning home.
 
Employers may also be able to require employees to work remotely or take time off of work following their travel, depending on the circumstances.  
The ongoing pandemic and the evolving regulations surrounding it create a challenging environment for business owners in California and across the country. Keeping a close watch on federal, state and local restrictions and guidance can help businesses determine how to communicate with employees and prioritize safety.


This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.
 
Carrie Pallardy

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