Addressing Employees’ Spring Break Plans Amid the Coronavirus (“COVID-19”) Pandemic

March 11, 2020 Advisory

Spring break season in the United States brings new challenges for employers this year as the COVID-19 spread continues. COVID-19, which the World Health Organization has now labeled as a pandemic, has been detected in more than 100 locations, including popular spring break destinations around the world. Thus, employers are bracing for the exposure risks that will be brought into the workplace by employees who return to work from spring break travels. 

As noted in our recent Advisory, employers should address COVID-19 risks in a manner that complies with legal obligations to warn employees of known risks, to maintain confidentiality, and to avoid most medical inquiries. However, employers can satisfy these rules while addressing with employees the risks associated with spring break travel by taking the following common sense steps:

  • Require Employees to Disclose Travel Information. Although employees should not be asked to disclose whether they (or their families) have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the EEOC has confirmed  that employers can ask their workers to disclose their travels. Thus, employers are free to require their employees to disclose their spring break travel plans, including whether employees are planning to go, or have gone, on a cruise or to any location where COVID-19 has been detected. 
  • Advise Employees to Follow Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Guidance on Spring Break. Several European countries, including popular vacation spots like Italy, have been rocked by the growing epidemic. The CDC has advised against travel to China, Italy, Iran, Japan and South Korea. Similarly, on March 8, the CDC issued new guidance advising against all cruise ship travel on a worldwide basis. The EEOC has announced  that employers are free to follow CDC guidance in addressing COVID-19 concerns. Thus, employers should feel free to encourage employees to choose spring break travel destinations in accordance with CDC recommendations.   
  • Encourage Employees to Consider the Risks of Spring Break Travel Plans. Because transparency about how travel may impact an employee’s status at work could help employees make good decisions, employers should consider asking employees to reflect on the following when making spring break travel plans:
    • Will your travel plans result in a government-mandated quarantine period upon re-entry to the United States?
    • Are you planning activities that could result in the inability to return home for a long period of time (e.g., cruise ship travel or visiting countries with travel restrictions, etc.)?  
    • If you are going on a cruise, have you considered what you would do if your cruise ship is not permitted to dock at any port for a lengthy period of time at the conclusion of your voyage?
    • Is it possible for you to perform your job remotely such that you would be able to continue working if you were subject to a lengthy quarantine?
    • Do you have sufficient accrued paid time off to cover a lengthy absence from work if you are subject to quarantine upon returning from spring break travels?

The exercise of asking employees to consider risks associated with spring break travel should also prompt employers to consider their own contingency plans, including how a significant outbreak within their workforce or among key employees would impact operations, what remote working policies should be modified or implemented, and what, if any, paid leave benefits will be available to employees impacted by the pandemic.

Armstrong Teasdale’s Employment and Labor attorneys are monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic closely to assess its legal implications for employers, and will continue to assist clients as they address related challenges.

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