T

he COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work but it couldn’t change it for too long. At least not in terms of keeping everyone in their homes.

Some companies have shifted to remote work and decided that it actually is the way to go. Amazon, for instance, allows employees with certain positions to work from home until January 2021. Coinbase, one of the most recognizable digital asset exchanges, became a “remote-first” company, allowing virtually everyone interested to work remotely indefinitely. Facebook, Gartner, Microsoft, Google—all those firms also introduced the possibility of working from home until at least 2021. Siemens, employing 140,000 people, ensured that they are able to be out of the office for two to three days per week. 

It’s not possible in each and every industry though. Moreover, it’s also not a suitable solution for every person, or a type of business, or even a type of meeting. As we progress with the current state of the pandemic, more and more employees start to miss the office life—and they gladly return to the buildings if given the chance.

How to ensure their safety? 

The answer lies in implementing company-wide policies for travel-related issues.

Basic Employee Protection

COVID-19 pandemic is not only dangerous to human health but also to the operational health of businesses of all shapes and sizes. Just a single infected employee can shut an entire office down—not to mention that the long-term effects of going through COVID-19 infection are still unknown.

Most countries already have travel recommendations by destination. The US CDC seems one of the most diligent in assessing the risk of international travel, classifying the vast majority of countries as high (level 3) based on the data provided by ESRI

Therefore—as an employer or a person responsible for assisting employees who absolutely have to travel—you should remember about this basic set of guidelines (as per CDC recommendations): 

  • Traveling employee needs to wear a mask to keep their nose and mouth covered when in public settings.
  • They need to avoid close contact by staying at least 2 meters (~6 feet) apart from anyone who is not from their household.
  • They need to wash their hands often or use a hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).
  • Avoid contact with anyone who is sick.
  • Avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth.

Going back to work immediately after the travel might be too risky for both the employees and the businesses. This is why implementing policies to prevent coronavirus from spreading after returning from travels is so crucial to business continuity, as well as the health of your team.

Policies for Returning from Travel

But then how to approach the challenge of team members returning from any kind of travel? The best approach is to get everyone on a mandatory 14-day-long quarantine period. Self-isolation is still our most powerful weapon against the further spread of the virus.

It’s also critical to identify the destination the employees are returning from. You can find the up-to-date number of coronavirus cases by countries on institutional and governmental websites, and the European Union shares this information here.

You should also follow your national public health authority’s instructions on returning from specified countries and areas in the last 14 days. Other staff can continue to attend work unless there is a need for different countermeasures.

Employees returning from areas listed as not affected can continue to work on-site, however, after being informed about the possibility of being in the vicinity of an infected person, they must self-isolate quickly. Reaching out to public health services and performing coronavirus tests are the next steps to follow as soon as possible.

In the United States, one should follow state, territorial, tribal, and local recommendations on requirements after travel. 

Remember: You Cannot Ban Personal Travel

Fox Rothschild published a brief analysis related to a simple question: “Can employers restrict employees’ personal travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic?” 

As one would expect, from the legal perspective the answer is not black and white. Moreover, it also requires the knowledge and understanding of state and federal laws (in the US), as well as country-specific laws (EU, Asia, UK). 

Fox Rothschild provides two examples from the states of Colorado and New York. In both situations, employers cannot terminate an employee based on their engagement in any lawful activity away from the employer’s premises during nonworking hours. What that effectively means is that if traveling is legal, then there is no legal ground for termination. The law of the state of New York states that “it is unlawful (...) to discriminate against employees for engaging in recreational activities (...) if such activities are legal.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that employers shouldn’t require a doctor’s note confirming that an employee returning from travel is free from the COVID-19 infection.

After all, the health of the entire team is at stake.

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