The World Health Organization (WHO) recently classified the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic, prompting governments around the world to try to "flatten the curve" with travel control policies ranging from complete border shutdowns to select-country travel bans.
These policies are designed primarily to protect large populations, leaving final decisions about whether to travel in the hands of individuals and businesses themselves.
If you run a business with frequently traveling employees, you can use the guide below to help you make a decision on what to do about travel:
1. Stay informed.
Make sure you're getting (and sharing) any important information about coronavirus and travel from trusted sources, says Vanessa Matsis-McCready, assistant general counsel and senior human resources consultant at Engage PEO, a Fort Lauderdale-based professional employer organization that provides human resources solutions. Some of the best trusted sources, according to Matsis-McCready are:
- the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration and
- the World Health Organization.
If you are planning a business trip, check to see what trusted sources are saying about the country or region you're planning to visit before making a decision.
2. Determine which travel is essential and which is non-essential.
Follow the guidance of your local, regional and national governments. Each may make its own recommendation or mandate, which should serve as the starting point for how you make travel decisions. If you have been directed not to travel, do not travel.
If there are no restrictions from your governing jurisdictions but you're still uncertain if you or your employees should travel, start by thinking about your plans in terms of essential versus nonessential travel. This classification system is used by enterprise-sized businesses, governments and other organizations to separate mission-critical travel from expendable travel. It helps balance the risks of the situation with the organization's objectives to help leaders make the right decisions.
Start with clear but encompassing criteria of what qualifies as essential to your business. Think in concrete terms—identify only the things that are mandated for continuity or safety as essential. Meetings that can be postponed, rescheduled or virtualized are nonessential.
Colorado State University recently ran through this process to develop COVID-19 travel guidelines for their faculty, researchers and post-docs. Based on the circumstances, they classify travel as essential if it is either intended to preserve the safety of a research subject or if it is intended preserve the results of a research activity and cannot be postponed.
3. Develop a plan for quarantined travelers.
It's possible that one of your essential travelers will get quarantined while away from home. Prepare for this reality with a comprehensive plan:
Points of Contact
“Essential employees need to be equipped with the knowledge and training about what to do in case of a lockdown,” says Julia Fullick-Jagiela, associate professor and chair of management at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.
Make sure staff on the ground are able to take over any vital work that your employee is doing. Put staff in place who can help your employee during their travels, and create resources that can help them on the ground. For example, a list of medical contacts in the area to contact if they were to get sick, advises Fullick-Jagiela.
“Thinking about security and safety should be the priority,” Fullick-Jagiela says.
Travel Insurance Contact Information
Some travel insurers have been covering trips affected by coronavirus. Others have not.
“Check to see if the policy even covers in times of illness before buying, being mindful where there are quarantines and travel bans already in place,” Fullick-Jagiela suggests.
Health Insurance Information
Make sure your company's health insurance covers problems that crop up while traveling abroad. International health insurance covers medical care over a longer, sustained period than standard business travel insurance would. Talk to your insurer to see which plan would best support you and your employees.
Lodging and Travel Arrangements
If an employee is far from home, your human resources department or a travel services agency can assist them in finding a place to stay or transportation.
Secure Laptops and Devices
“Secure WiFi and reliable internet access can be crucial in times like this and are often things we take advantage of that not everyone has access to,” Fullick-Jagiela says.
Offer employees tools such as a virtual private network, which offers a secure, encrypted connection, one that hackers won't be able to infiltrate.
4. Know when to call off a trip.
Pasquarello says her “tripwire” for canceling a flight to another country is based on the travel advisories that can be found at the U.S. State Department website. She also consults Medjet, a service that offers global air medical transport to members.
“I always suggest travelers purchase a supplemental travel evacuation plan from Medjet, and if Medjet restricts coverage, I will not travel to that location. I want to know I can get out of the country I am visiting with assistance,” she says.
5. Know your boundaries when it comes to your employees' time in and out of the office.
If you don’t want to send employees on a business trip to an area known for having the coronavirus, that’s absolutely reasonable. But what if you learn your employee is going on a vacation to a town that’s had some cases of the virus?
“Employers should consult an attorney or human resources expert before trying to ban personal travel,” says Matsis-McCready. "Many states prohibit employers from discharging employees for lawful, off-duty conduct, like personal travel.”
That said, you may have the freedom to manage an employee’s work time due to their personal travel.
“In most situations, employers can ask that employees disclose recent personal travel to an outbreak area and ask the individual not to return to the workplace for 14 days, the current incubation period outer limit. If practical and appropriate, the employer can also ask the employee to telecommute,” Matsis-McCready says.
The coronavirus is going to make travel difficult for awhile, and in some cases, maybe impossible. Think critically about the reasons for business travel and if you decide to go, prepare with an abundance of planning and caution.
Photo: Getty Images
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