May an employer require an employee to travel to a Zika-affected area for business purposes?

Author: Melissa Gonzalez Boyce, XpertHR Legal Editor

It depends. If an employee expresses concern over traveling to a Zika-affected area, an employer should evaluate the situation on a case-by-case basis. For example, an employer should consider whether the importance and nature of the work along with the risk of mosquito exposure outweighs the potential reluctance of an employee to travel to that particular area. If an employer decides that a business trip to a Zika-affected area is necessary, an employer should educate the employee on ways to reduce the risk of exposure to the Zika virus by taking the appropriate preventative measures, e.g., use of insect repellant and limit on unnecessary outdoor work.

Also, under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards, an employee can refuse to work only where there is an objectively reasonable belief that there is "imminent death or serious injury." However, considering the ability to take precautions to prevent exposure and infection, it is unlikely that an employee could prove that he or she has an objective belief.