How Should Employers Handle Business Travel in the COVID-19 Era?

This article has been updated; it was originally posted September 23.

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek October 6, 2021
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COVID-19 and business travel

JPMorgan Chase & Co said this week that it will restrict business travel for U.S. employees who are unvaccinated or have not disclosed their vaccination status to the bank, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters. The bank also mandated those staffers are to be tested twice a week and said they would need to contribute a higher cut of their pay towards medical insurance, to account for testing expenses.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be uppermost in employers' minds, business travel is expected to increase significantly during the second half of 2021, although it will be lower than 2019 levels, according to recent survey findings from Deloitte.

Employers are still tentative about asking employees to go on work trips, the consulting firm noted in its report, released in August.

"Many companies still require extra layers of approval for corporate trips, and travel volume has only grown slightly from the end of 2020," the report stated. "International travel remains all but prohibitive, with quarantine on arrival required in many countries regardless of vaccination status."

Deloitte projected most companies will stop requiring executive approval for domestic business trips during the first two quarters of 2022. Others are taking a different approach. At Volkswagen AG, internal booking software steers employees toward alternatives to flying and they are asked to justify traveling rather than conducting business online, Bloomberg reported. Ford is requiring employees who go on international business travel to be vaccinated, according to NBC News.

The Biden administration plans to rescind the COVID-19 travel bans imposed in 2020 and replace them with vaccination and testing requirements to enter the U.S., beginning in November, SHRM Online reported Sept. 30.

Employers may wonder if they can legally require proof of vaccination before allowing employees to travel for work, SHRM Online reported. The answer is yes, although they should refrain from asking questions that would require employees to disclose medical information. Employers also should have a plan in place should travel vendors or business partners require vaccination.

SHRM Online collected the following news articles about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on business travel. 

How the Pandemic Is Reshaping Corporate Travel 

A successful vaccine rollout and updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance designating travel as safe for vaccinated people have ushered in the return of domestic leisure travel. But corporate travel faces a slower return, thanks to a more complex set of considerations.

Conferences and trade shows, which account for a significant volume of business trips, remain mostly virtual. Many offices remain closed, which limits sales and project-based corporate travel from both sides: Companies find it hard to ask employees to take work trips, and many of their clients, vendors and partners have yet to open their doors to employees, let alone visitors.
(Deloitte


Required Vaccinations to Replace U.S. COVID-19 Travel Bans

The Biden administration's COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said that fully vaccinated travelers will need to complete pre-departure testing within three days prior to their departure to the U.S., but that they will not be required to quarantine upon their arrival.

He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will determine the definition of "fully vaccinated" and what vaccines qualify for the policy.
(SHRM Online)

JPMorgan Bans Business Travel for Unvaccinated U.S. Employees--Memo

JPMorgan Chase & Co said this week it will restrict business travel for U.S. employees who are unvaccinated or have not disclosed their vaccination status to the bank, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.

The bank also mandated such staffers to be tested twice a week and said they would need to contribute a higher cut of their pay towards medical insurance, to account for testing expenses.

The Wall Street bank has urged its employees to get their COVID-19 shots, but not mandated vaccines, in line with peers such as Bank of America Corp and Wells Fargo & Co.
(Reuters)

Corporate Travel Prepares for Post-Vaccine Realities 

Can companies require employees to be vaccinated, at least as a prerequisite for business travel? The answer to that question "varies greatly depending on where you are" and is best left to each company's legal department to determine, said Andrew Miller, director of Americas partnerships at International SOS.
(Business Travel News)

How Will Vaccine Passports Impact Business Travel? 

As COVID-19 vaccines become widely available and businesses look to safely resume travel, employers may be wondering if they can require "vaccine passports"—proof of vaccination—before allowing employees to travel for work.
(SHRM Online)   

The Latest Vaccine Requirements for Travel 

Many countries require travelers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter the country for nonessential travel. This new entry requirement comes as infection and hospitalization rates increase worldwide and as the vaccine becomes more accessible. Here are some of the latest vaccine requirements for travel. Note that these travel guidelines can change rapidly as rolling confirmed case counts fluctuate.
(Forbes


[SHRM members-only resource: Business Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic Policy

Review Business Travel and Vacation Policies as Pandemic Continues 

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, employers may want to update their travel policies to comply with evolving federal and state travel restrictions and workplace safety guidelines.

If employees do travel during the pandemic, however, employers should consider adding travel-related COVID-19 testing and isolation requirements to their policies, noted Tracey Diamond, an attorney with Troutman Pepper in Princeton, N.J.
(SHRM Online)  

Official Travel for Federal Employees Who Are Fully Vaccinated

The CDC provided guidance on travel for people who have received the full dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine. Pursuant to OMB Memorandum M-21-15, federal employees should adhere strictly to CDC guidance for domestic and international travel before, during and after travel, regardless of whether the travel is personal or for official business. These FAQs address how this CDC guidance applies to federal employee travel for official business.
(Safer Federal Workforce)


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Asking Vaccination Status

The Department of Health & Human Services has clarified the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not prohibit an employer from requesting an employee’s vaccination status as part of the terms and conditions of employment.

The Department of Health & Human Services has clarified the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not prohibit an employer from requesting an employee’s vaccination status as part of the terms and conditions of employment.

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