by Elizabeth Sigler.
With the coronavirus still raging on and spreading across the U.S., employers need to be ever more vigilant. Now that COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, employers should take reasonable measures to avoid contributing to the disease’s spread worldwide. In a recent post, we discussed employers’ potential risk with regards to traveling employees as well as their general duty to keep their workplaces hazard-free under regulations set out by the Office of Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). We have received several questions since then regarding the coronavirus and possible preventive measures for employees coming to the U.S. from a country exposed to the virus. This article will discuss the use of health screens as a preventive and risk-mitigating measure to combat liability from the coronavirus.
Best Practice? Pre-departure Health Screen: Effective, Convenient and Cost-Efficient
If you want to prevent the spread of the coronavirus within your office or reduce your exposure to liability from your employees working overseas, the best practice is to do a health screen pre-departure. If it turns out your overseas employees are sick and they travel to the U.S., much of the damage has already been done—they’ve potentially exposed everyone on their flight, their Uber driver, hotel personnel, clients and their staff, and anyone else with whom they have had contact.
Further, pre-departure screening is more effective at limiting the disease’s spread than screening upon arrival, more convenient for the employee, and likely less expensive for you as the employer. The employee can do the health screen with their own healthcare provider or public health agency in their home country, and you can simply reimburse them for the visit or their time. This is likely to be cheaper for you than hiring a special dedicated healthcare screening resource to check employees when they arrive in the U.S., especially in light of the limited quantities of COVID-19 test kits currently available. A pre-departure screen also limits the expense and inconvenience of putting your employee in a hotel, limiting their movement in the U.S. while waiting for their results, and, if they are truly sick, arranging treatment for them for an extended period of time. While we discourage confining employees unnecessarily, if quarantine is necessary to protect others, having your employee self-quarantine at home is tremendously better than in a hotel away from home.
Ask employees traveling away from their home countries to get a COVID-19 screen as close to their departure date as possible, and condition authorization of their work trip on providing acceptable results to your company pre-departure. Recent studies show that most patients develop symptoms of COVID-19 about five days after exposure, so testing should be performed no less than five days before departure. Once employees provide a negative test result, ask them to certify that they have not encountered anyone they know to be positive for COVID-19 just prior to their flight. If these preventive steps are not feasible, we strongly recommend postponing or cancelling an employee’s international work-related trip.
Maintain Employees’ Confidentiality
Lastly, when asking your employees to do a pre-departure screening, only request their status with respect to the coronavirus or other seasonal infectious viruses, like the flu; do not ask for any other health information. Let your employees know that their results will be kept as confidential as possible in accordance with any public health mandates applicable to your business. If any employees test positive for COVID-19, you should temporarily prohibit them from coming to the office, suspend their work travel, approve time off for treatment and recovery, and urge them to seek treatment immediately. Before they return to work and begin any business travel, require them to provide a doctor’s note certifying they are not contagious, or, if that its logistically infeasible, that they have been symptom free for at least 14 days.
As we mentioned in our previous post, the best practice is to keep an eye on all current advisories and be responsive to any employees who raise concerns. Using a pre-departure health screen instead of a post-arrival health screen is a precaution that is cost effective for you and convenient for your employees.
Get Tips from an Atlanta Employment Attorney on Protecting Your Company and Employees from Coronavirus During Business Travel
Contact the Atlanta employment attorneys at Stanton Law to learn more about your options for managing business travel during the coronavirus or other disease outbreaks. We can help you limit your risk of exposure and liability in order to safeguard your employees and your business. We are available at 404-531-2341 and online.