By Rodman Employment Law
Many employees in Massachusetts, as well as many people who are employed by Massachusetts-based companies but reside in another state, are required to travel for work. Under ordinary circumstances, traveling for work does not present problems pertaining to public health and quarantine requirements. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are important considerations for both employers and employees. Whether you live in a nearby state and are required to return to work in-person for your Massachusetts employer, or you live and work in Massachusetts but are asked to travel outside the state for business purposes, the following are things to keep in mind.
What an Employer Can and Cannot Do
Employers must comply with federal and state law when it comes to providing a safe workplace for employees. Under the OSH Act of 1970, employers are required to provide employees with “a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” While this federal law does not expressly discuss business travel, it is understood that the requirements of a safe workplace apply to office settings (or other worksites), as well as spaces of required business travel. Accordingly, if business travel is unsafe given the prevalence of COVID-19, employers may not be able to require an employee to travel for business purposes.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), business travelers should consult the CDC for up to date travel guidelines. The CDC emphasizes that travel to areas where there is significant community spread of COVID-19 can increase risks to travelers. If an employee does travel out of the state or out of the country for business purposes, a recent order requires Massachusetts law requires anyone entering the state to complete a Massachusetts Travel Form before arrival unless they are traveling from a lower-risk state. Travelers also must quarantine for 14 days or have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arriving in Massachusetts. Failure to comply can result in a fine of up to $500 per day. Employers cannot require employees returning to the state to sidestep Massachusetts law, or to take any retaliatory action against an employee for complying with Massachusetts state law requirements.
What an Employee Can and Cannot Do
Depending upon the business travel request, an employee may be able to refuse a travel-related work assignment under the OSH Act of 1970 if the business travel requires the employee to go from Massachusetts to a state or country with a high rate of COVID-19 community spread, but it is important to recognize that the law in this area is still developing. If an employee is at high risk of a severe COVID-19 infection due to a recognized disability, that employee may be able to refuse to travel for work under the ADA.
However, an employee may not be able to refuse to travel to a nearby state that is designated as a lower-risk state for COVID-19 infection by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Contact a Massachusetts Employment Law Attorney
If you have questions or concerns about traveling for work during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in relation to employee rights and responsibilities, you should get in touch with an experienced Massachusetts employment lawyer as soon as you can. Contact Rodman Employment Law online or call us at 617-820-5250 to speak with an employment law attorney about your situation.