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Employee Travel and Return to Work

June 26, 2020 • Amy Campbell

Employee Travel and Return to Work

Summer is when many district staff take vacations, and, despite COVID-19-related closures, many employees are still planning to leave home for a trip during the summer months.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) travel guidance continues to evolve as transmission of the Coronavirus changes worldwide, and the latest version of the travel advisory map identifies every country in the world as having “widespread ongoing transmission” of COVID-19, including within the U.S.

District HR staff should notify employees as soon as possible about expectations for returning to work after a trip outside the local community.

Employer rights

Employers have the right to dictate that an employee cannot return to the workplace if the employee may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. However, district HR staff should consider asking questions of the employee before making that call.

Some questions to ask:

  • Where did you travel? International travel is the riskiest, and the CDC has directed travelers to stay home for 14 days after returning home. However, even travel within the U.S. carries a risk. The CDC COVID-19 data tracker provides real-time data on cases by state. District HR staff may need to make a judgment call about the risks associated with the location to which the employee traveled.
  • Did you self-isolate for 14 days after return? If the employee was able to stay home and complete a 14-day isolation and currently is symptom-free, it’s probably safe for them to return to work.

Districts can provide employees with a Recent Travel Reporting form upon return to collect some of this information, but HR will still need to communicate directly with the employee to collect additional needed information. It’s important to provide employees with a single point of contact for information exchange. While not prohibited, it may be best to avoid asking too many questions about an employee’s behaviors while on vacation (e.g., Did you maintain social distancing? Did you regularly wash your hands?). Such questions may be perceived by employees as invasions of privacy, and employee answers will be subjective and difficult for HR to use as a basis for self-isolation decisions.

As always, consistency is key. Districts should use consistency in deciding when to require an employee to stay home. Given how quickly state and federal COVID-19 guidance shifts, it’s also important to maintain flexibility. You may need to change restrictions on return to work as travel restrictions change.

Employee communication

The sooner you can communicate with employees about how the district will handle return to work for travelers, the better. This will allow employees to make decisions about their travel before they leave. Sending formal notice is helpful to employees but also will help protect the district from future complaints.

Employees should be notified that they must take accrued leave if they travel outside the country and are unable to return due to travel restrictions. Once accrued leave is exhausted, employees may risk termination if they don’t return to work.

Employees also should be notified of the district’s decisions on self-isolation requirements based on travel location, as well as the options available to the employee upon return, including:

  • Telework, if appropriate based on their job
  • Use of accrued paid leave
  • Use of unpaid protected leave
  • Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) if employee provides a doctor’s note indicating need to self-isolate

With advance warning, employees may proactively change their travel dates to accommodate the self-isolation period before their return-to-work date or make a plan for leave usage upon return.


Amy Campbell is the director at TASB HR Services. Send Amy an email at amy.campbell@tasb.org.


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Tagged: COVID-19, "Employee notices", "Epidemic Response", Leave