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By: Ber Leary on December 1st, 2020

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Help Your Employees Travel Safely This Holiday Season

Risk Management | COVID-19

In a normal year, your employees’ holiday schedule wouldn’t be a big concern. You might politely ask where they’re going, but it’s not business-critical for you to discuss their travel plans. 

Of course, 2020 has been anything other than a normal year. And the holiday season promises to be our biggest test so far. Lots of people will choose to travel to see loved ones over the coming weeks, even though we’ve been warned that this threatens a “surge upon a surge” of new Covid-19 cases.  

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This puts employers in a delicate situation. While you may not want to pry into an employee’s private life, you also need to minimize the risk that someone will end up having to self-isolate. Or, worse, that someone might contract the virus and spread it around the office. Here’s how to tackle this thorny issue and support a safe, enjoyable holiday season.  

Talking to employees about travel plans 

Can an employer ban their staff from traveling? This course of action is legally dubious at best, and it may cause friction with your team. The National Law Review recently concluded that “it is not advisable for employers to prohibit employee personal travel altogether – both for legal and employee-relations reasons.”  

But you do have an obligation under OSHA guidelines to create a safe working environment. If someone has high-risk travel plans, they could be endangering their colleagues. 

The best compromise is to respectfully engage the team in an open conversation about holiday travel. You’re allowed to ask employees about their plans, as long as you stick to a few fairness guidelines: 

  • Keep all answers confidential 
  • Only ask questions that relate to business objectives 
  • Avoid intrusive or overly personal questions 
  • Don’t single out any individuals or groups  

When you know what each person is planning, you can offer them advice, support, and information about staying safe.  

 

What travel advice should you give employees? 

According to the CDC, the best way to stay safe is to stay home. However, if an employee does plan on traveling, there are a few tips you can offer to help them stay safe. 

  1. Be aware of quarantine rules - Each state has its own guidelines on quarantine and testing. AARP has a state-by-state list of current rules on its website. Remind your employees that they have to obey the laws of your state when they return. For example, if you live in Seattle and you go to visit family in Portland, you’ll have to follow Washington rules and quarantine at home for two weeks when you get back.  
  2. Driving is the safest option - Taking the car is the best way to reduce contact when traveling. Where possible, the person traveling should plan to make a one-day journey with as few stops as they can safely manage. When they do make a stop, they must use masks and hand sanitizer while socially distancing as much as possible. 
  3. Flying can be safe when following protocols - A Harvard report on aviation shows that you’re less likely to catch Covid on a plane than at the grocery store. However, this is only true if everyone on the flight wears a mask at all times, except briefly while eating and drinking.  The traveler also must be careful to socially distance while passing through the airport terminal.  
  4. Minimize contacts during your visit - 2020 is not a great year for catching up with people. This year, we’re all going to have to settle for more intimate gatherings with our closest relatives. Anyone traveling should only plan to attend a single event, such as a dinner with immediate family. Try to avoid visiting multiple households or attending public places such as restaurants.  
  5. If in doubt, don’t travel - Under no circumstances should someone travel if they have Covid-19 symptoms, especially if they’ve been in contact with a confirmed case. Instead, the person should stay where they are and follow local guidelines. Canceling plans can be disappointing, but it’s better than inadvertently infecting your loved ones.   

Finally, remind people that the virus doesn’t acknowledge the holiday season. This is not the time to let our guard down. In fact, it’s time to redouble our efforts to stay safe until the crisis passes.  

Keeping your office safe throughout the holiday season 

Many offices are now reopened with new safety protocols in place. These might include hand-sanitizing stations, socially distant desk layouts, and staggered lunch breaks. You might also have a hybrid team, with members alternating between working from home and logging on at the office.  

December and January are going to be an incredible stress test of your protocols. To keep your team safe, you’ll need to double down on existing processes, and maybe take some additional steps: 

  • Educate and inform: There are many conflicting news sources out there, which has led to a great deal of public confusion. You can help by acting as a reliable point of contact for your team. Offer them verified, factual information on things like quarantine rules and the process for arranging a Covid-19 test.  
  • Be flexible with suspected cases: Employees often come to work when they’re ill, either because they feel they have a duty to show up or because they don’t have paid sick leave. This kind of presenteeism can be lethal during a pandemic. Remote working policies, combined with paid time off for suspected Covid-19, can help keep people at home when they’re ill.  
  • Issue a mandatory mask policy: According to the CDC, universal mask-wearing is our best defense until a vaccine comes along. But masks don’t necessarily protect the wearer. Instead, they prevent carriers (including asymptomatic cases) from spreading infection. This means that mask-wearing only helps if everybody masks up. 
  • Support vulnerable staff members: While some people have Covid fatigue, others are still very frightened. Older adults and the immunocompromised are still at serious risk, and employers have a duty to keep them safe. If you can’t offer a remote working alternative, make sure your vulnerable workers have total support in the workplace.  

There’s been some optimistic news about vaccines recently, and it looks like 2021 might be the year we start getting back to normal. It would be a shame to fall at the last hurdle when we’ve all come so far. Talk to your staff and help them understand the risks so that everyone can have a safe and healthy holiday season.  

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