One of the first thoughts for a travel manager concerning the Zika virus is ‘how does duty of care responsibility come into play?’ After all, it is your responsibility to protect the safety and security of your employees, even while they are traveling.
Zika and business travel
Zika typically has mild symptoms in adults, such as fever, rash, headache and joint pain. These symptoms are so mild that most people don’t even know they contracted Zika. Unfortunately, there are greater concerns for women who are pregnant or planning to start a family. Pregnant women that contract Zika can have very serious side effects for their unborn child. They can contract microcephaly, a birth defect resulting in small head and brain size. New research has found it could also result in blindness, deafness, or learning and behavioral difficulties.
Your first reaction might be to just avoid all health concerns and not send women of child-bearing age on business trips to these infected areas. Wrong. This violates laws of gender and pregnancy discrimination. On the other hand, they have the right to not disclose family planning and future employment decisions. This is a real catch-22. You can’t keep them from traveling, but you can’t assume they want to avoid the area either.
So, what are employers to do?
Overall, as long as employers inform all of their employees of possible Zika risks, especially those of child-bearing age, and avoid other discriminatory actions, they can’t be held liable for any negative outcomes on fetal health. But you can be helpful and provide additional information for all employees.
Here are some additional ways to provide support and information to employees potentially traveling to Zika-affected areas without overstepping bounds:
- Look for volunteers for travel.
- Provide employees traveling to these regions with long clothing and mosquito repellent. Plan to keep them indoors with air conditioning whenever possible.
- Keep open communication between your employees about concerns or questions.
- If they are hesitant to travel to a these areas, provide them with additional resources and information so they can make a well-informed decision.
- Never pressure your employees to travel if they are concerned for their safety or security.
- Stay informed through the CDC government website. Currently over 50 countries and territories are included in recent Zika travel alert.
Want to learn more? Read our previous blog on Zika and Duty of Care