Can Your Employer Punish You for Traveling During the Holidays?
H.R. expert discusses employers’ rights and responsibilities this holiday season
Chicago, IL. Many employees were asked to sign waivers promising their employers that they would not travel or attend mass gatherings this Thanksgiving season. As we head into another round of holidays, it is expected that even more employers will ask employees to refrain from traveling or gathering with their families. But do employers have this right, and to what extent can companies enforce these COVID-19 policies?
“Yes, employers have the right to ask employees not to travel, and to even formally discipline if they do so,” says Rob Wilson, President of Employco USA and human resources expert. “For example, we have seen cases in which a worker has posted examples of their risky behavior on social media, such as going to a bar and not wearing a mask, or having a large party with friends indoors. When this is brought to employers’ attention, they have the right and even the responsibility to discuss this problematic issue with the employee and cut the worker’s hours or take them off the schedule until they are proven virus-free.”
This will be happening a lot as we get deeper in the holiday season, says Wilson, and employers should become well-versed on how to handle employees who boldly refuse to limit their social interactions.
“The first step is to ensure that your workers know your expectations. Send out an email or host a company-wide Zoom meeting in which you outline the CDC’s guidelines for the holidays, such as avoiding travel, not having large parties, and being cautious while shopping. You can ask your employees to sign a waiver acknowledging that they have been made aware of these guidelines, and you can set protocols that will enforce quarantine proceedings for any workers who choose to travel or gather with their extended families despite the warnings.”
For example, says Wilson, you can require all employees to quarantine for 2 weeks after the holidays if they travel, and not to return to the office until they have been given a negative COVID result.
“You don’t have to pay hourly employees for this time. If they choose to travel, they are making the choice to lose their place on the schedule,” says Wilson. “Salary workers could be required to use their vacation and sick days to make up for this time off.”
Wilson advises employers to be judicious when it comes to handling religious concerns around the holidays.
“As an employer you have the right to require a safe workplace for your staff, but be careful when handling issues like church and temple, as many people go to places of worship during the holiday season,” says Wilson. “Urge your workers to wear masks whenever they’re indoors and to practice social distancing, but remember this is a time of both cultural and religious significance for many people.”
Wilson also says that it’s better to lead with a carrot rather than a stick when it comes to encouraging safe behavior during the holidays.
“Rather than putting all of your energy into punishing employees who step out of line, reward workers who make smart choices and incentivize staying home by giving employees gift cards to InstaCart or DoorDash,” says Wilson.