In HR Dive's Mailbag series, we answer HR professionals' questions about all things work. Have a question? Send it to [email protected]
Q: We've been in the pandemic for over 18 months at this point. With more in-person events happening, how should employers approach employee travel? What are the legal red lines?
A: The good news is that, with proper attention to guidelines put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, employers are generally safe in asking employees to travel, Jeff Wilcox, employment attorney and shareholder at Hill Ward Henderson, told HR Dive.
The CDC has released and regularly updates guidelines for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, as well as for domestic and international travel. While airlines and airports are enforcing the guidelines rigorously, it may still be worth sharing them with employees ahead of travel.
As with any other job-related expectation, employers need to respect employees' disability-related needs. Exemptions from travel could easily be considered a reasonable accommodation, he said, and if employees report a medical issue that makes them vulnerable, it, as always, triggers the interactive process.
Even if employees do not have a disability or medical need related to the virus, employers should still seriously consider the necessity of the travel, he suggested. Is there a virtual version of the event? Can the work or meeting be accomplished remotely?
While many people have adjusted to pandemic-era travel, some are still dealing with travel anxiety. The past few years have seen a positive evolution in employers' approach to mental health, with workplaces offering new benefits, free counseling and other resources to help employees manage the world outside. If an employee is uncomfortable with travel at present, consider if another approach can be taken.
On the other hand, travel may really be an imperative part of the role, and in that case, assuming no disability-related needs on the employee's part, the employer is well within its rights to make it a requirement.
"I think companies need to analyze their business needs and analyze the current landscape with COVID-19," Wilcox said.