The information provided within this FAQ does not constitute legal advice. Employment law is complicated and appropriate legal assessment and advice can only be given based on knowledge of your specific facts and taking into account the rapidly evolving legal landscape. We strongly recommend before acting on the above you consult with an employment attorney.
Last updated: April 2, 2020
Can my employer insist that I not travel to certain countries?
Subject to the particulars of your employment contract, the employer cannot control the employee’s personal travel, but the employer may insist you work from home if you have traveled to those countries and pose a “direct threat” to the health and safety of others in the workplace.
Can my employer require me to stay home if I have symptoms of, or test positive for, COVID-19 (Coronavirus)?
Yes. The CDC states that employees who become ill with symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) should leave the workplace. Consistent with the CDC guidelines, an employer may require an employee to stay home if the employee has symptoms of COVID-19 or has tested COVID-19. The ADA does not interfere with employers following this advice.
Can employees refuse to travel as part of their job duties?
Employees who object on behalf of others or act in groups could be covered by the NLRA’s protection of concerted protected activity. You will want to proceed with caution and consult with your attorney before taking any steps in this regard. Moreover, under the federal OSH Act, employees can only refuse to work when a realistic threat is present.
Therefore, if employees refuse your instruction to travel for business to any other country for fear of catching the COVID-19 (coronavirus), try to work out an amicable resolution. For example, the employer and the employee can check and discuss the CDC (avoid Nonessential travel), State Department (Do Not Travel to China), and DHS Travel Advisories, which provide guidance on China Travel.
The CDC is also advising that some individuals may be more at risk of infection than others in the general population. Thus, follow the CDC direction on pregnant employees or on related reproductive issues, and do not make decisions without medical support. Moreover, actions by other countries, especially in Asia, may cause employee concerns, and absolute warnings and restrictions like those on China may not exist.