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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 and 2021 have been anything other than normal. And the holiday season promises to be another big test. Lots of people will choose to travel to see loved ones over the coming days and weeks, even though we’ve been warned that this threatens a “surge upon a surge” of new Covid-19 variants and 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 workplace risk. 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? 

If an employee does plan on traveling, there are a few tips you can offer to help them stay safe, according to the CDC:

For Fully Vaccinated Employees:
  • The Risk is Lower: Employees who are fully vaccinated are less likely to get and spread Covid-19 compared to unvaccinated travelers. The CDC is currently stating that fully vaccinated people can travel within the United States at low risk to themselves and others.
  • Mask Up: Although vaccinated, it is still a requirement to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other public transportation within the US when indoors.
  • Get Tested Upon Return: It is recommended to get a test 3-5 days after travel. It is no longer required to quarantine following domestic or international travel.
    • If traveling domestically within the US or a US territory, fully vaccinated travelers do not need to get a Covid test before or after domestic travel, unless testing is required by local, state, or other authorities. Do communicate if this is a requirement to go on-site to your office after returning from travel.
    • As for traveling internationally, it is not required to get tested before leaving the United States, unless required by the destination. Once returning to the US from a foreign country, all citizens are required to show a negative Covid-19 test taken within 1 day before the flight or documentation of recovery in the past 80 days before boarding a US flight home.
For Unvaccinated Employees:

The CDC still recommends that if unvaccinated people should delay their travel plans until they become vaccinated. So in general, domestic travel should be limited to trips that are only completely necessary. International travel should also be avoided, if at all possible.

  1. Be aware of the destination guidelines - Each state, local, and territorial governments may have travel restrictions in place. Remind your employees that they have to obey the laws of your state when they return.
  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.
  3. Mask up - Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth is required in indoor areas of public transportation and indoors in U.S. transportation hubs.
  4. Get Tested & Self-Quarantine - A viral test 1-3 before travel is recommended and 3-5 days after returning from travel. Self-quarantine for a full 7 days after travel, even if you test negative at 3-5 days. If not getting a test, it is recommended to stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after travel.

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.

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.  

Just like last year, Winter will 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 
  • 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 still our best defense along with the vaccination. 
  • Support vulnerable staff members: While some people have Covid fatigue, others are still very frightened. If you can’t offer a remote working alternative, make sure your vulnerable workers have total support in the workplace.  

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. 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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