Big thanks to Kim Sartin in our London office for her contributions to this post.
As many businesses start to reopen, and travel restrictions are lifted in some locations, employers are gearing up for the inevitable question — when can employees travel? At the moment, we’re certainly seeing companies re-starting business travel that is deemed essential, but it would be an unusual case where an employer was making it mandatory for employees.
Here is a checklist of considerations to help inform the decision to allow or mandate business travel at this time:
- Health and safety. Of course, an employer’s first priority is to protect the health and safety of its workforce. Due attention must be paid to whether it is safe for employee travel in the contemplated areas. Companies whose business involves travel into areas where the virus is particularly active or accelerating should first try to maintain customer contact or business contact through other means, e.g. teleconference, webinar, or video conference. (Johns Hopkins University has a useful global tracker that shows how prevalent the virus is in various locations.)
- Quarantine rules and travel restrictions. Travel restrictions and quarantine rules are complex and changing daily. The EU operates a “white list” of non EU countries from whom travelers are permitted (see HERE) although some EU countries have added additional countries to the list. However, even if an individual is permitted entry in theory, a negative pre- or post-travel Covid test may be required to avoid quarantine on arrival (e.g. Germany, Czech Republic, France). From a practical perspective, even if quarantine may not be required on arrival in the destination country, many organizations are reticent to send personnel to another location with the risk of them having to quarantine for 10 or 14 days on their return. It is important to review local quarantine orders carefully as the differences are nuanced. (In the US, use our 50 State Shelter-in-Place / Reopening Tracker to track re-opening orders and quarantine restrictions.)
- Litigation. It’s important to be aware of the current litigation climate; claims for health and safety violations are proliferating. Albeit largely a US phenomenon at the moment, employees are increasingly raising health and safety concerns elsewhere. (Listen to Employment Litigation Predictions in a COVID-19 World: an Insider’s View From the Plaintiff’s Bar.) Individuals who believe a company exposed them to coronavirus may have legal claims, including claims under workers’ compensation claims (for employees) and legal claims such as negligence. Note that, across the US, laws are being passed to extend workers’ comp coverage for any liabilities.
- Reputation. Consider the possibility that the employer could receive negative publicity if employees are engaging in business travel for nonessential purposes, particularly if that travel results in exposure to coronavirus on the part of the employee or others. On the flip side, some employees are eager to travel and may view increased flexibility as a positive.
- Other options? Evaluate whether increased use of technology and video conferencing may substitute for in-person meetings to avoid business travel, taking into account security needs and the capacity of the company’s IT infrastructure. If business travel remains essential, consider carefully the rules on entry / return and work closely with the employee to try and mitigate risks as far as possible e.g. in terms of how they travel / where meetings are to take place, etc.
For assistance developing your company’s travel policy, contact your Baker McKenzie employment lawyer.