Question: After a year of COVID-19 pandemic related restrictions, my employees are experiencing fatigue about the pandemic and workplace COVID-19 related rules.  Some argue that they are not required to follow my business’s COVID-19 related safety rules unless the rules are mandated by law.  Can I continue to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and state and local health departments, even if the guidance is not mandated?  For example, can I implement COVID-19 related travel policies for employees who travel out of the country for vacations?

Answer: Employers are required to provide a safe workplace for employees, including protecting employees from infectious diseases like COVID-19. Accordingly, employers have the right to implement lawful workplace policies that protect the health and safety of employees.  Some such policies are mandated by law while others are adopted pursuant to government guidelines.

When establishing COVID-19 related policies, employers should follow the latest guidelines from the CDC, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), and their local health authority. Employers must make sure that workplace policies do not violate employees’ civil rights, including ensuring the policies are not retaliatory and do not discriminate against or harass an employee based on a protected category such as race, sex, or disability under the Fair Employment and Housing Act and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Employers may implement travel related policies designed to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. On January 6, 2021, the CDPH issued a new travel advisory telling California residents to avoid traveling more than 120 miles from their residences unless doing so is essential. The CDPH advisory also states that California residents returning home from other states or countries should self-quarantine for 10 days after arrival. See

www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/COVID-19/Travel-Advisory.aspx for details.  The CDC recommends that individuals get tested and self-quarantine after all domestic and international travel. See www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/after-travel-precautions.html.

Employers can adopt policies requiring employees to inform the employer if and when they are traveling out of California, out of the country, or traveling more than 120 miles from their home. Employers can require employees to be tested for COVID-19 upon their return from travel and to self-quarantine, even if they test negative.  Requiring all employees to disclose their travel destinations and to test or self-quarantine after their travels to protect other employees does not violate the employees’ right to privacy because there is no constitutional or statutory right to privacy in travel plans.  Employers who require employees to self-quarantine after travel should implement policies to establish whether the quarantine will be considered a paid or unpaid leave of absence to ensure consistency in the treatment of all employees and avoid liability.  Due to the complex federal and state laws relating to paid and unpaid time off due to COVID-19 quarantines, employers should first consult an attorney before implementing a quarantine policy related to travel.

Employers who ignore the recommendations of the CDC, the CDPH, and/or their local health authorities, and who fail to establish policies to ensure a safe workplace, expose themselves to claims from employees and others who contract COVID-19 at the workplace. Although employees may be more resistant to following and may challenge the legality of workplace COVID-19 related policies, employers are still required to adopt and enforce workplace rules that protect the health and safety of employees.