According to a recent U.S. Travel Association forecast, only about one-third of companies are requiring their employees to travel. With business travel still at a low, how can companies develop a travel policy that reduces the risk of COVID-19?
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
When it comes to business travelers, whether employees are traveling domestically or internationally, OSHA recommends employers consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for guidance.
The CDC advises against traveling internationally if someone is not vaccinated, is exposed to, sick with, tests positive and/or is waiting results from COVID-19 exposure. Even for travelers who are fully vaccinated, the CDC reminds us that becoming infected and/or spreading the virus is still possible.
Travelers should similarly follow all guidelines at their point of departure, on the airline, and at their destination (e.g., wear face masks, get tested to show proof of being COVID-19 negative, maintain social distancing) to be compliant with requirements during each point of the journey.
For those returning to the United States, fully vaccinated travelers must have a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of travel. Fully vaccinated individuals are suggested to test three to five days post travel, keep an eye out for symptoms and test and isolate if there are symptoms. Travelers who are not fully vaccinated must have a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours of travel. Travelers who are not fully vaccinated are advised to test three to five days after, along with self-quarantining for seven days, post return. Even if the COVID-19 test is negative, self-quarantining for seven days after travel is advised. If the COVID-19 test is positive, travelers should isolate. If you don't get tested, stay at home and self-quarantine for 10 days post travel. If symptomatic, test and isolate.
When it comes to domestic travel, differences exist between fully vaccinated and partially/non-vaccinated travelers. Along with masking and government mandates for fully vaccinated travelers, upon return they need to keep an eye out for symptoms and isolate if any develop. However, there are no recommendations for testing or self-quarantining for fully vaccinated or those who have recovered from an infection within the past three months.
For unvaccinated travelers, along with following masking, social distancing, hand hygiene practices, and government mandates, testing 24 to 72 hours before departure is recommended. Upon return, travelers are advised to get tested three to five days later and isolate for one week. If non-vaccinated travelers don't test, a 10-day quarantine is recommended. If a test is done and it's negative, a one-week isolation period is recommended.
Assessing Financial/Legal Risk
Employers must determine if the work that requires travel is truly essential, and if it is in all jurisdictions, it should be documented. There are a few types of potential financial and/or legal liabilities if employees travel to perform their work duties. If an employee becomes infected, a workers’ compensation claim could be opened. If an employee does not receive an accommodation, either not having to travel or unable to work safely in the office with a worker who may have been exposed to COVID-19, legal issues may develop. Additionally, a whistleblower lawsuit may exist if an employee alleges the company has violated public health requirements. However, if business travel can't be delayed, there must be guidelines to reduce the risk of travel becoming a way to catch COVID.
Protect Employees Before Travel Begins
Businesses are advised to give their employees adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). Depending on how and where the employee is traveling, he or she is required by federal law to wear a mask in and on mass transit (e.g., airplanes, trains). It also may help to provide gloves, hand sanitizer and wipes.
Study Transit and Destination COVID-19 Policies
Whether it’s domestic or international travel, different cities, states and countries have different requirements for those who are vaccinated and those who are not. Depending on where the traveler has a layover, there could be testing, proof of vaccination or masking/social distancing requirements in place at various spots.
Agree to Travel-Related Activities
By highlighting the risks of visiting certain venues that may pose higher risks (e.g., restaurants, gyms), an employer also can mandate employees to wear masks, socially distance, wash hands frequently, etc., regardless of the locale’s requirements.
Plan Ahead for Post-Travel Office Work
Another important component of a travel policy is how the business and its employee(s) will return safely to work and interact with co-workers and clients. For the most extreme cases, there could be a 14-day work-from-home policy to reduce the risk. Businesses can mandate testing for employees as long as they cover testing costs and testing requirements are applied fairly companywide.
While the world is reopening to commerce, especially instances when business deals necessitate face-to-face meetings with people from different cities and continents, safety with COVID-19 is paramount.