June 9, 2020
The short answer is, “No.” The long answer is a little more complicated.
Businesses have gone through some remarkable changes in the last few months. In that time, video conferencing apps like Zoom became the default way to individuals and teams in contact with each other. Given the numerous travel restrictions in place, it also became the default for face-to-face meetings that generally would have required travel. While this proved effective in the short-term, many businesses still need their employees to travel, both nationally and internationally.
Now that things have started to reopen, many businesses are asking the question, should our employees travel yet? And if they do, what are the potential liabilities that could lead to workers’ comp claims. Here’s what you need to know:
The CDC currently recommends that people avoid travel altogether – air travel, or otherwise – as it increases the chances of contracting or spreading the virus.
While air travel is permitted within the United States, there are widespread quarantine restrictions put into place after travelers arrive at their destination. Rather than head directly from the airport to their work meeting, employees are expected to isolate themselves for 14 days, continually monitoring for signs of COVID-19. Moreover, they would need to repeat this after returning home, meaning that a single domestic work trip could result in an employee being unable to work for upwards of one month. There could also be questions about workers’ comp claims during that time, especially if they come down with symptoms.
International travel is even more tricky, as many borders have been closed around the world. For example, the border with our closest neighbor, Canada, is currently closed to most travelers (although those with dual citizenship and some goods transportation have been allowed through).
In other words, traveling right now could be a risky and time-consuming affair. And that isn’t even taking into consideration the risks at the airport itself.
Do you remember the changes in travel that happened after 9/11? From taking off our shoes to keeping all liquids in a clear plastic bag, these measures may have helped protect us from further attacks, even if they could be somewhat irritating to frequent travelers. Unfortunately, the changes put into place due to COVID-19 will likely eclipse these measures.
We recommend that you do as much of the check-in process as possible at home (printing your boarding pass, selecting your seat, etc.) In the airport itself, cleanliness is the name of the game. There will be constant cleaning of floors and surfaces, using both chemical products and UV rays. You will also see an increase in hand sanitizers and mask usage throughout the airport.
If you usually catch a quick meal in the airport before getting on your flight, you should take a sack lunch, as most of these service locations remain closed. Be sure to bring contact-less methods of payment with you, as cash will not be accepted. Boarding will also be slightly different, as most airlines are allowing groups of 10 to enter the plane, back to front.
Once you are on the plane, you will be asked to keep your mask on at all times (excluding when you are eating and drinking). Thankfully, the air filters in commercial planes are continually cleaned along with surfaces, so even if there are a lot of people on a flight, it should be safe to breathe. Physical distancing rules are not in place on airplanes right now, so you may be seated next to someone. However, given that fewer people are traveling than ever, you also might find yourself with legroom to spare - it all depends on your destination.
Business travel is likely to resume sooner rather than later. As governments solidify guidelines, air travel will become safer, allowing employees to travel around the world (or at least to countries that don’t have active outbreaks). There is still the chance that an employee might show symptoms of COVID-19, either when out of or back in the country.
In the case of international travel, the worst-case scenario for insurers would be coming down with symptoms in another country. They would immediately be put into the care of that country’s healthcare system, which could have a massive impact on their travel health insurance. Moreover, many hospitals around the world still haven’t recovered from the effects of COVID-19, meaning that they may not be able to provide the standard of care necessary to treat the virus effectively. Worse still, if someone does come down with symptoms, they would be unable to fly or leave that country until their symptoms have subsided.
In the case of national travel, the risks are slightly reduced, depending on the area of the country your employees are heading. If they are going to a hot spot like New York state, the risks will obviously be considerably higher than if they were heading to a state with few cases, like Alaska or Vermont.
Things are still up in the air about how COVID-19 could impact workers’ comp. Many states have passed laws guaranteeing workers’ comp to essential workers who come down with the coronavirus, but those protections don’t necessarily cover those in non-essential industries. Employees would need to prove that they were infected with COVID-19 as a direct result of their work activities, which would be considerably easier to establish if they were infected while on a work trip to another state or country.
What won’t be changing any time soon are the measures you need to put into place to protect your employees and customers from COVID-19. Proactively taking steps can significantly decrease the chances of workers’ comp claims or other disruptions to your business.
If you’d like to learn more about how COVID-19 guidelines will impact your newly reopened organization, we would be thrilled to help. It’s a super confusing time, with things changing all the time. That’s why we’re dedicated to answering all your questions about opening the doors of your business once again!
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