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HR Tip: State travel restrictions, personal travel, and paid sick time under the FFCRA

An often-asked question is, "Do I have to pay my employees sick time under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) when they return from out of state travel that was voluntary and personal (not job-related)?" If you are an employer covered by the FFCRA and you have work that the employee can perform, the answer is, "It depends."

Under the FFCRA, there are six qualifying reasons for emergency paid sick leave (EPSL). One reads, "is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19." The operative word here is order. Some states issue recommendations or advisories, not mandatory orders.

An employee who travels out of state for personal reasons, such as vacation or to visit family, and is required by a state order to quarantine upon return would be eligible for EPSL leave based on this reason for up to two weeks (80 hours) if they are unable to work or telework. The fact that the employee's trip was voluntary as opposed to work-related is not a disqualifying factor.

When an order does not exist or is advisory, employees returning from vacation may choose to quarantine, or be required to by their employer, but will not be eligible for EPLS. Employers can allow employees to use earned sick time or other PTO in this situation.

Employers should have clear, written travel policies and procedures in place that incorporate CDC and applicable federal, state, and local guidelines and/or orders and should communicate these clearly to all employees. Employers can require employees to disclose travel plans as long as they inquire equally for all employees and the inquiry is consistent with business necessity. Such policies should be consistently enforced.