Travel Policies, Payroll, and Leave—COVID-19 Questions That Just Won’t Go Away

No comments

During the COVID-19 pandemic, questions about when employees may or may not travel, how to assess temperature checks at the front door, and a wide array of other issues have continued to crop up. Whenever an employer feels like it’s gotten its arms around the appropriate answers, circumstances change, with states opening and closing, infection rates spiking, and politicians continually issuing new direction and orders.

Regardless of the day or the noise, however, some basic questions remain the same.

Persistent Questions

What about travel? If your governor, mayor, or other state authority has indicated your state, county, or city is “open,” it can be more difficult to limit personal travel for your employees. Basic safety and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) considerations, however, necessitate that you talk with employees before they return to the workspace after personal travel.

Reasonable inquiries about travel include:

  • Date;
  • Location;
  • Form of transport used (planes, trains, buses, cruise ships, and other mass transit are higher risk); and
  • High-risk activities (e.g., volunteer work in a nursing home with a significant number of COVID-19 cases).

Other factors to consider include a travel companion testing positive for COVID-19, staying at a resort where multiple cases have been logged, or similar issues. Particular attention should also be paid to whether they have chosen to travel to a state with a high coronavirus rate or, in violation of governmental authority, traveled in a “closed” state. These can be routinely checked on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Iowa websites.

Employees with high-risk factors such as plane travel to a state that is currently closed or experiencing a significant spike should be prohibited from returning to the workspace for a minimum of 14 days and 72 hours symptom-free.

What about travel for work? Employers bear a heightened obligation to ensure employees’ safety, particularly when assessing travel for work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Assessment factors should include:

  • Travel location;
  • How contact will occur;
  • What safety measures can be put into place; and
  • An appropriate process for contact tracing.

You should maintain contact tracing documentation to minimize the litigation risk. The statute of limitations in Iowa, for example, for a personal injury claim is 2 years, so we generally suggest keeping documentation of this type for a minimum of 3 years. While contact tracing apps may be used, the type of consent and security policies needed vary by state.

What about taking your temperature at the door? Using Iowa as an example again, it should be noted there are two different sets of guidelines in relationship to temperature—one set for healthcare facilities and another for nonhealth-related entities.

If you are in a healthcare facility such as a hospital, long-term care facility, or something similar, the governor hasn’t lessened the restrictions on how and when temperatures should be taken or symptoms assessed and recorded.

Healthcare industry guidelines include posting a person at the door to take and record temperatures and assess potential symptoms. Multiple facilities have received fines and citations for failure to meet the stringent guidelines. Unlike other industries, Iowa healthcare facilities cannot rely on self-certification.

For other industries, the governor has relaxed the restrictions regarding temperature, and this remains a question of generalized assessment of safety and security. The decision to take temperatures (or have employees self-certify temperatures, exposures, and symptoms) is workplace-dependent and currently remains recommended for all industries.

How do I store such information? If they are being kept, temperature logs and notes from discussions relating to symptoms should be treated as employee health records and maintained in your standard employee health file. Employee health files are separate from the standard personnel record and have additional confidentiality protections. Any customer or vendor health records should be kept separately.

The length of time you should keep such records may depend on your industry as well as whether you believe the records will be useful in mitigating future liability concerns. In healthcare or other high-risk industries, you must be able to give the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals (DIA), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), or other governing agencies documentation that you have done the appropriate temperature and symptom checks to show compliance.

To mitigate issues of personal injury based on the statute of limitations, keep the records a minimum of 2 years, although 3 years is recommended to avoid accidental early destruction of documentation.

Employers in other industries may choose to use the same litigation risk assessment, but those not in high-risk categories could choose either not to record such documentation or to destroy it on a shortened timeframe, such as every week or every 30 days based on their own individual and industry risk assessment. This is something you should discuss specifically with your legal counsel absent other statutory requirements.

Is every COVID-19 case OSHA recordable? No. OSHA has periodically reviewed its guidelines, issuing new amendments and changes to address whether COVID-19 cases are recordable on an employer’s 300 log. Many employers aren’t required to keep 300 logs, and that assessment doesn’t change during the COVID-19 pandemic.

High-risk employers such as healthcare entities, hospitals, clinics, and long-term care facilities typically must record COVID-19 exposures as part of their 300 logs. Moderate- to low-risk industries are required to assess the likelihood of workplace exposure but aren’t automatically required to log COVID-19 cases on the 300 log.

What can I do when my employee keeps exposing herself to COVID-19? As the COVID-19 pandemic has gone on for a longer period than many anticipated, some employers are experiencing a problem with employees who simply don’t care or don’t believe the pandemic is a significant safety issue. This includes employees who routinely meet or interact with others they know have tested positive for COVID-19, employees intentionally exposing themselves as part of a “COVID-19 party,” and similar issues…

Source: HR Daily Advisor

TRG Guide

Sponsored By