May an employer impose a quarantine on an employee who has traveled internationally during the COVID-19 outbreak?
Employers should pay careful attention to their travel policies as the resumption of business travel coincides with the start of summer vacation season. It is advisable for employers to develop a written policy on travel and to treat all employees equally. Travel quarantines should not be determined on an ad hoc basis.
At the federal level, the President has restricted entry of non-U.S. residents or citizens who have traveled to certain countries (China, Iran, most of Europe, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Brazil). While the President’s mandatory ban does not apply to U.S. citizens and legal residents, the CDC recommends that U.S. travelers who have traveled internationally stay home and monitor their health for 14 days upon their return. As many state and local public health orders either suggest or require that businesses comply with CDC guidance throughout the return-to-work process, employers should consider whether their employees in certain jurisdictions are subject to such guidance. In addition, many jurisdictions limit travel to their countries, including those traveling from the United States. Finally, state governors have issued orders requiring travelers from certain jurisdictions to self-quarantine for a period, usually 14 days, although at least some of these bans have been modified or lifted. Governor Greg Abbott lifted Texas’ requirements for self-quarantine on May 21.
Employers should monitor the CDC’s Travel Health Notices and the State Department’s Travel Advisories for the latest guidance on the safety of travel to international destinations.
As summer approaches, employers will also face questions arising from those employees who take vacation to travel domestically, particularly as State limitations expire or are lifted. Many states prohibit employers from engaging in behavior alleged to constitute discrimination on the basis of an employee’s lawful off-duty conduct, including personal travel. Whether an employee is required, or merely encouraged, by public health authorities to self-quarantine following travel to a COVID-19 hotspot, employers may question whether they can or should take steps to protect other employees from exposure to the returning traveler.
Therefore, employers may want to consider whether applicable law and any existing travel and PTO policies allow them to counsel employees regarding optional and/or personal travel which may result in a mandated or recommended quarantine or similar restriction. Some relevant considerations include:
- Whether state and local laws permit the employer to restrict lawful off-duty behavior, including personal travel.
- The extent to which existing policies permit the employer to prohibit personal travel that would delay an employee’s return to on-site work or generate disruptive concerns about COVID-19 infection among coworkers, customers, or other stakeholders.
- Federal, state, and local anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws, including those that specifically prohibit discrimination because an employee has been exposed to COVID-19.
- Any impact that the Emergency Paid Sick Leave may have on the employee’s return.
- Whether, in consultation with counsel, broader personal travel prohibitions are legally and practically advisable, given the employer’s workforce and the states in which it operates.
Last updated May 26
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