Vaccines, Travel & COVID Prevention

Vaccines for COVID-19 are readily available across the country at no cost to the individual. According to current data, over 50% of Californians have received at least one shot, increasing to over 56% nationwide.  Employers are evaluating whether or not to require vaccines for certain roles that have regular interaction with the general public, or involve working at a client’s residence or place of business.  Or whether to require vaccines for employees returning to the office or worksite.

Separate but related, as a nation, we want to travel again! We seek destinations outside the confines of the county or state, and want to enjoy a getaway to visit long distance loved ones or take a desired family vacation.  Over 70% of Americans plan to travel this year.  This increases to over 80% for vaccinated individuals.  Business travel is also an interest to re-connect with clients or engage new ones.

As an employer, you are required to maintain a safe, COVID-free, workplace, and recognize the desire and need to move forward. How do you balance these interests?

Last November, Cal-OSHA issued guidelines making it clear that employers bear responsibility for enforcing protocols of distancing, disinfecting and masks to mitigate opportunities to spread the virus.  These guidelines are due to be updated to consider vaccinated employees returning to worksites and offices.  It is yet to be seen whether updated guidelines include travel for personal or business reasons.

Under federal and state laws, employers can and may require vaccines for their employees, so long as you accommodate employees with disabilities or closely-held religious beliefs.  Accordingly, you may also ask employees whether or not they have already been vaccinated.  Understanding this will help employers to create reasonable precautionary guidelines for gathering in the workplace, and/or for conducting business with customers or clients.

Working through these issues with our clients, we have the following recommendations:

  • Consider the amount of regular public interaction required for your employee to carry out their responsibilities.  For roles that regularly interact with the public, or are frequently performed at a customer’s residence or client workplace, it would make better sense to require vaccination.
  • Consider the reasons for requesting employees to return to the office if the role doesn’t require frequent face-to-face interaction. On the one hand, it may facilitate collaboration across the team, or provide an alternative for employees that are too distracted to work productively at home.  On the other, consider probability of distancing and enforcing mask-wearing when away from the workstation.
  • According to the CDC (yet, not Cal-OSHA), vaccinated individuals are not required to wear masks when meeting outdoors or when meeting with other vaccinated individuals indoors.  If your team is partially vaccinated, then it’s best to meet outdoors – with ample fresh air ventilation – or continue to require masks when distancing isn’t possible.
  • In order to protect your employees, and others they come in contact with while conducting business, an alternative to requiring vaccination is to require non-vaccinated individuals to wear a double mask when distancing is not possible.
  • Best to continue to limit business travel to fulfill essential needs. Considering the past 14 months, many businesses have adjusted to using technology, which also provides a cost advantage.
  • Non-vaccinated employees who travel for personal or business reasons may continue to be required to comply with a post-travel quarantine of 7 days and a negative test result before returning to the office. Vaccinated employees may forego a quarantine with a negative COVID test result.
  • Through September 30th, CA employers with 26 or more employees are required to provide paid time in order for employees to get the vaccine and/or recover from its side effects.