As some states begin to ease shelter in place restrictions, and economies begin to re-open, what can you legally require from your employees when it comes to travel?
When it comes to the current state of the COVID-19 outbreak, contradictions abound. On the one hand, international borders remain closed to non-essential travel and social distancing measures are firmly in place.
On the other, the White House has issued a 3-phased approach for re-opening the country, and Georgia has begun to loosen restrictions, with similar discussions taking place in Alaska and Oklahoma.
As talk of the return to work continues, small business owners are wise to prepare.
SMBs still need to adhere to the restrictions in place to protect employee safety, but it’s important to consider what work will look like on the other side — especially when it comes to travel.
Should your business implement travel restrictions?
For some business leaders, it’s simple.
“The short answer is that yes, we will be limiting travel and placing restrictions on it to ensure employee safety,” said Dan Bailey of WiKiLawn Lawn Care.
“We see no reason to put our employees in danger for little to no return.”
“We see no reason to put our employees in danger for little to no return. The bulk of our travel was to different states where we have a strong presence, and to conferences where we felt we could network and make connections.”
Bailey notes all their conferences have been canceled and says his team will be sticking to online venues for networking.
Reuban Yonatan, CEO of GetVoIP, said his company’s approach is similar.
“We implemented travel restrictions soon after COVID-19 hit the United States, and we do not intend to reverse them. When we go back to the office, we will look at alternatives. We’ve already started considering virtual meetings instead of traveling to meet physically.”
Can businesses ban personal travel?
Banning workplace or business-related travel is one thing, but can employers ban personal travel as part of their return to work plan?
“As a general rule, employers cannot control an employee’s lawful off-duty conduct, including elective travel.”
“As a general rule, employers cannot control an employee’s lawful off-duty conduct, including elective travel. However, given the current circumstances, it would be reasonable to introduce a policy requiring employees to disclose what their travel plans are once travel becomes more regular” says the Law Office of McDermott Will & Emery.
What if travel is essential to your business?
Diego Colombi of Integrated Learning Experiences has had no choice but to halt all business-related travel.
“Our business model is directly related to travel. All of our employees and participants are now grounded where they are.”
His business operates in foreign countries, so it’d be impossible to get across the borders. Plus, Colombi notes the risk to employees and volunteers would be too great.
There’s a lot of uncertainty about what will happen in the coming months, but for now Colombi has cancelled all programming related to travel and cancelled appearances at conferences for the remainder of the year.
What steps can we take if our employees must travel?
In some cases, business critical travel will be unavoidable. If travel is essential, support employees by providing actionable advice to help them protect themselves. Send a memo that outlines your suggestions to employees. Use the following as a template for your own business.
Send this memo to employees who will be traveling
As a company, we’ve been proactive in taking steps to protect all of our employees during the COVID-19 outbreak, including [measure 1], [measure 2], and [measure 3].
Our employees are at the core of what we do and who we are, and we value your physical and mental wellbeing above all else. We hope you’ve felt supported by us during this challenging time.
The country is not ready to fully reopen yet, but signs like the White House’s release of guidelines for reopening America tell us it’s on the horizon. We wanted to let you know in advance of our plans about returning to work, specifically regarding travel.
We’ve cancelled all non-essential travel through [insert date], including attendance at conferences and tradeshows. We’re doing our very best to conduct all business remotely, but there may be situations where business-critical travel is unavoidable. In those cases, we recommend the following:
- Keep your distance from other travelers when possible
- Travel with hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and a mask
- Wash your hands frequently, especially before eating, drinking, or touching your face
- Follow location-specific guidelines of your destination
- Self-quarantine after visiting a high-risk destination, per the CDC’s guidelines
If you’re asked to travel but don’t feel comfortable doing so, please reach out to your manager or the HR team. Travel is voluntary on the part of employees.
We thank you for your support, as always,
Your HR Team