Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.
The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
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Question: I work for a nonprofit with sites in Florida and Texas, states where COVID-19 cases continue to rise. Our company has already mandated that employees wear masks while out in the field. However, we have been battling with what the organization can and cannot require after work hours. Can we restrict personal employee travel since they are frontline workers? – Anonymous
Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health authorities are urging Americans to limit travel, you may not prohibit employees from traveling within the U.S. or to other countries.
This may seem to contradict the guidance received by many workplaces from their local and state health departments, but it’s worth breaking down the “why.”
Many states have “off-duty” conduct laws. Simply put, these prevent employers from restricting an employee’s after-work activities – assuming such after-work activities are legal.
That said, you can – and should – encourage employees to remain cautious and mindful while traveling. It could be a simple reminder, or, you could go so far as to advise against nonessential travel to known COVID-19 hotspots. After all, it’s not just about this one employee, but the rest of the company and perhaps your clients, too.
It’s also worth noting while an employer may be unable to prohibit an employee’s personal travel, they can establish firm safety policies and protocols that must be followed by employees within the workplace. This may include requiring employees to notify an employer of travel plans to a state or city that is considered a COVID-19 hotspot.