The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause new and unexpected headaches for employers. The latest challenge will impact many of your employees’ vacation plans, as well as any company travel policies. On Friday, July 24, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced a new Travel Order that institutes a mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers coming into Massachusetts. Travelers include Massachusetts residents/employees who visit a “hot spot” state. Individuals who fail to comply could be fined up to $500 per day. The new restrictions take effect on August 1, 2020, and are similar to the joint travel Orders issued by Governors in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey last month. This is more strict than the current state travel advisory, as travelers are now subject to an official government quarantine order.
Under the Order, all visitors entering Massachusetts from somewhere other than a lower-risk state are required to:
- Complete the Massachusetts Travel Form prior to arrival; and
- Quarantine for 14 days or produce a negative COVID-19 test result that has been administered up to 72-hours prior to the visitor’s arrival in Massachusetts.
The current list of lower-risk states includes the rest of New England (Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maine and Vermont), plus New York, New Jersey, and Hawaii. There are a few limited exceptions to the Order. The above requirements — completed travel form and quarantine or test — do not apply to commuters who regularly cross state lines for work or school. Patients who must travel to Massachusetts for medical treatment are also exempted, as are military personnel and those who provide “critical infrastructure” as identified in this Memorandum published by U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The Massachsuetts Department of Health also published instructions on how to quarantine. Those in quarantine must not have contact with anyone outside their travel party for two weeks, must not be out in public, must not let anyone else into their quarantine area, must have food delivered, and should wear face coverings as required by the Massachusetts masking order. Of course, travelers (including Massachusetts residents) cannot go into the workplace if they are in quarantine.
What does this mean for employers?
These restrictions certainly complicate travel and vacation plans for employees. The Travel Order also raises concerns for employers. The Order speaks to employers as follows:
Employers are strongly discouraged from requiring or allowing business-related travel to destinations other than those appearing on the DPH list of COVID-19 lower-risk States. Employers that permit employer-paid or employer reimbursed travel to States not on the lower-risk list should take measures to ensure employees comply with this Order. Employers should also strongly discourage their employees from taking personal travel to destinations not included on the list of COVID-19 lower-risk States.
This means business travel outside the lower-risk states should be postponed unless absolutely necessary. If employees do travel for business, they should be directed to self-quarantine upon their return to Massachusetts. Employers also need to update or implement travel-related policies to strongly discourage, or even completely ban, personal/vacation travel outside the lower-risk regions.
The biggest impact, at least for employers with less than 500 employees, could be the link between the new Order and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Recall that the FFCRA provides employees with up to 80 hours of Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) for a number of reasons related to COVID-19. (We have previously discussed the FFCRA here, here and here.) One of the qualifying reasons is the inability to work because the employee “is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19.” Governor Baker’s Order appears to meet this definition. This means employees who travel to a state that is not on the lower-risk list will need to quarantine for 14 days upon their return. If they can work at home this is not a big problem. However, if they cannot work from home, they are likely entitled to 80 hours of EPSL (assuming they have not already used up their EPSL).
How would this look for your business? Suppose employee Joe Worker takes a one-week vacation to a state not found on the lower-risk list. When Joe returns from vacation to Massachusetts, he would be required to follow the 14-day quarantine Order, meaning he cannot return to the workplace (among other things). If Joe cannot work from home, he would get his 80 hours of job protected EPSL. This would turn a one-week vacation into three weeks out of work. If staffing in Joe’s department is a concern, this could have significant consequences for the workplace.
Given the intersection of the FFCRA and the new Massachusetts Travel Order, employers will need to know when and where employees are traveling for the foreseeable future. If staffing is a problem, consider limiting or even banning travel to “hot spot” states in order to avoid FFCRA headaches for employees who cannot work from home. Employers should also update or issue travel-related policies so that employees understand how their travel will impact their ability to return to the workplace.