Now that the holiday season is upon us, employers can anticipate that a number of employees will make travel plans to see loved ones who they may not have been able to see in-person due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For this reason, it is important for employers to be clear and transparent with their workforce about their expectations for those who engage in travel or other high-risk activities, such as large gatherings, which can increase the spread of COVID-19. It is also crucial for employers to communicate with their workforce to comply with all federal, state, and local orders regarding travel and gatherings to avoid increasing the risk of COVID-19 infection when they return to work.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and California Department of Public Health (CDPH) have provided recommendations for travel during COVID-19, and these recommendations differ for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Following these recommended guidelines is essential in providing a safe and healthy environment in the workplace.

Recommendations for Vaccinated Individuals

The current guidance from the CDC and the CDPH recommends individuals delay travel until they are fully vaccinated. Someone is considered fully vaccinated for COVID-19 two weeks after their second dose in a two-dose series (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or other vaccine authorized by the World Health Organization), or two weeks after receiving a single-dose vaccine (Johnson and Johnson). Fully vaccinated individuals may travel within the United States without having to test or quarantine, as long as they remain asymptomatic. However, fully vaccinated individuals should still self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and get tested if symptoms develop.

Recommendations for Unvaccinated Individuals

The CDC and CDPH recommend that individuals who are not fully vaccinated refrain from traveling to avoid the risk of contracting COVID-19. Should an unvaccinated individual decide to travel, the individual should arrange to take a viral test one to three days before the trip and get tested again within three to five days after returning from travel. The individual should also quarantine for seven days upon return, even if the individual tests negative for COVID-19. If the individual tests positive for COVID-19, the individual should isolate to protect others from getting infected. Individuals who choose not to get tested for COVID-19 after traveling should stay home and self-quarantine for ten days after travel. Upon returning from travel, unvaccinated individuals should also avoid being around people who are at increased risk for severe illness, self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and get tested if symptoms develop, and follow all federal, state, and local recommendations or requirements.

The CDC has also noted that effective December 6, 2021, all international air passengers, regardless of vaccination status, must show a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than one day before travel to the United States. Additionally, regardless of vaccination status, all individuals are required to wear a mask indoors on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation. Individuals should also follow all state and local recommendations, requirements, and safety precautions, including wearing a mask, social distancing, and washing hands frequently.

Employers should consider how they intend to address the guidance and recommendations provided in the CDC and CDPH’s travel advisories. For example, employers can consider recommending that unvaccinated employees refrain from engaging in high-risk travel and activities during the holidays, and may require them to get tested or stay home after travel. Finally, employers should continue to keep their workforce updated on their policies regarding returning to work after travel, and continue to follow the recommendations of local public health officers, the state, and the CDC regarding traveling.