As news outlets report on how COVID-19 cases are surging and hospital beds are filling up, experts are advising people to cut back on holiday celebrations. They are not the only ones urging caution though, as some employers are asking their workers to do so as well. Some have created corporate videos and sent out memos to remind workers to avoid extensive travel and large gatherings. Others have offered paid time off for possible post-holiday quarantines or asked their employees to sign pledges that they would avoid large celebrations.
As a general rule, companies cannot restrict employees from attending holiday gatherings or holiday travel. However, there should be proper protocols in place; otherwise, employers could be liable if outbreaks occur in their workplaces. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates employers to provide safe workplaces. This is why companies need to screen their employees and keep the lines of communication open.
Companies have legitimate concerns about their employees traveling and celebrating during the holiday season, as these activities can increase the risk of exposure, infection, and quarantine. It is a gray area, so it makes sense to first look at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines; these are updated regularly. For example, employers can make workers who travel to CDC Level 2 or 3 countries, or areas that have higher percentages of positive cases, self-quarantine for 14 days before coming back to work. This holds true even when employees show no symptoms.
Companies can require workers to get tested after travel, and this is in line with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines. It can take 14 days for infections to appear, so even if an employee tests negative, they could be positive afterward.
What About State Laws?
Though some companies may attempt to impose employee travel bans, it could be against the law in some states. As an example, some New York laws prohibit employers from taking adverse actions against employees who engage in lawful recreational activities outside of working hours, and this could apply to holiday gatherings or travel.
Employers can be uncertain about approaching the topic, since while attending large parties or traveling out of state might be risky, it is not thought to be illegal, unless there are state regulations in place. It is legal for employers to talk to workers about holiday plans, as long as the goal is to preserve the health and safety of everyone who workers there. These inquiries should be based on legitimate business concerns. Workers can also be given information about social distancing protocols; state, city, and county regulations; and travel advisories.
Companies may also ask employees to quarantine after the holidays, and they do have the right to do so. In some cases, employees can work from home when isolating, and this can be the best solution. There are laws such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that allow this to be considered paid time off, but only in certain circumstances.
Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Help Clients with Various Employment Matters
If you are unsure about your rights as an employee this holiday season, get in touch with the knowledgeable Philadelphia employment lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. For a confidential consultation, call us at 215-574-0600 or complete our online form. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.