can my job make me travel during the pandemic?

A reader writes:

Can my work require me to travel during the pandemic?

My work has let me know I will be expected to travel by plane to another state for a week to help someone out on a project. Typically when my company travels we are required to stay in a hotel room with another person. The project is such that I will likely be in contact with many people, in an industry/location that has generally not taken the virus seriously (rural/remote construction site). My state and the state I will travel to are currently low-risk states that do not have guidelines around travel.

I have been working from home since March and taking COVID-19 seriously. I am in my 30s and healthy and am not in contact with anyone who is high-risk. Still, is there anything I can do to push back? I’ve paused visits to family, vacations, and pretty much any sort of travel for the past year, and it seems unfair and risky that now I have to travel because my employer has told me to.

I have never been required to travel for work before, and I’m also a bit miffed because I was not asked to go, I was told (please let me know if I am off-base here also!). If I don’t go, someone else at my company will have to in my place and that doesn’t seem fair either.

Can I say I will go once I’ve been vaccinated? Or that I will go if I can drive myself rather than fly? Can I push back at all?

You can absolutely push back. There’s no guarantee that your employer will budge, but it’s reasonable to try and it very well may work.

First, is the visit itself absolutely necessary? A lot of companies have learned in the past year that work that they used to travel for can instead be done remotely (and they can save a lot of money that way, too). If that’s a possibility, you could propose trying that, per the CDC’s recommendation to cancel any non-essential travel.

If the visit is definitely necessary, you can propose specific ways to make it safer like:
* driving instead of flying
* not sharing a hotel room with another person — this should be non-negotiable
* informing the site ahead of time that everyone you work with will need to be masked, and empowering you to require that when you’re there (and agreeing on how you’ll handle it if it doesn’t happen)

Or, if you’re simply not comfortable traveling at all right now (which is a reasonable stance to take too), you can try saying, “I’m strictly adhering to public health guidance on Covid and have stopped all travel until the CDC says it’s safer. I’m not comfortable with the risks of travel right now. Is there another way for me to assist with this project?”

You could also point out that legal guidance for employers often suggests making travel optional during Covid.

As for being told to travel rather than asked — in non-pandemic times, that’s not abnormal. But right now an employer who simply assigns a generally non-traveling employee to travel without any discussion of their comfort level and/or precautions that will be taken is going to look pretty out of touch.

{ 156 comments… read them below }

  1. The Happy Graduate*

    The more able you are to provide an alternative solution to the issue the better the chance it will be received well! But definitely how you’ve never travelled before for work will hopefully help boost your credibility for refusing apart from the obvious risks as discussed. Good luck!

    1. Letter Writer*

      I ended up responding to my work before Alison’s response was posted, but I do wish I included an alternative solution as you mention. I’m not declining to work, I’m declining to travel in a pandemic, and it seems to me that my work could have come up with more creative solutions, and I could have been the one to start that discussion.

  2. Rey is my bae*

    I wonder if one of the reasons that the LW has been asked to travel is because someone else who normally does the travelling refused to go due to the pandemic and therefore they are finding someone else who is qualified at the company but does not usually travel to go in that person’s place.

      1. Krabby*

        Yep, this is exactly what I was thinking!
        Sounds like someone higher up put their foot down and instead of scrapping the travel plans they’re just going down a list of employees until they find someone who doesn’t feel comfortable speaking up.

    1. Brett*

      Also, since the OP is healthy, young, and has no high-risk contacts, maybe the OP is replacing someone who _is_ high risk.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        Yes the LW says she is healthy and young But the thing is, the company doesn’t know for sure that they are healthy and low risk. Im around the same age as LW, look perfectly “normal” and healthy but I’ve got underlying health conditions that you wouldn’t know unless I said so. Doesn’t affect work, have no accomodations so my boss wouldn’t know a thing.

        1. Lis*

          I had been told this before but it never hit home until I was told I *had* to come into work during a blizzard and ended up in a ditch.
          Your job will post an ad for your replacement before your obituary hits the papers.
          Make the best choice for your health and safety. Period.

      2. redheadedscientist*

        I mean, I’m healthy and young with no high risk contacts and still wouldn’t want to do a trip like this. Covid can still be dangerous for people in their 20s and 30s with no co-morbidities.

        1. Homophone Hattie*

          Yes, exactly. Even if you don’t die of it you risk other long-term or permanent health impacts, like long covid or lung scarring or changes to sense of smell and taste. They’re finding lung scarring even in people who had very mild cases.

          1. Self Employed*

            Long term brain fog, too, even in people who just had “bad flu” cases and weren’t sedated in the ICU. That would probably disqualify OP from her current job; I suspect we are going to have a LOT of people going on disability by the time the pandemic is over.

  3. Franz Kafkaesque*

    Think of it this way. Is this company going to continue to pay your salary while you are out sick (even when you have used up all your PTO/sick time)? Is this company going to continue to provide insurance coverage for life, if you get COVID and wind up with permanent lung damage?

    Those are pretty stark terms, but my point is simply that you should absolutely feel comfortable pushing back.

    Side note: I work in a field where all work can very easily be done remotely and I’m currently job hunting. At this stage of the game with COVID, I’m highly skeptical of the leadership of any company that hasn’t “woken up” to the realization that they can save a ton of money on travel costs and office real estate by encouraging telecommuting as much as possible. In today’s world, I’m just not sure how fiscally responsible it is to require so much unnecessary face-to-face interaction unless a project specifically requires it. If a company required travel for my particular job, I’d just be thinking: “There goes my raise” or “There goes my bonus”

    1. PT*

      You don’t even have to get sick, the bar for a 2-week quarantine is much lower. And some states require it for travel between states, by law.

      1. Self Employed*

        Yes, California (or at least my part of the state) has a 14-day quarantine for everyone traveling more than 150 miles except healthcare workers.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s a remote construction site. Read the letter before you start spouting out about “Do you really need to travel?” Most likely if you’re visiting a construction site, you need to lay eyes on it for regulations purposes. All the construction companies I work with come to visit us because they need to see how things are actually laid out to make sure that they don’t create massive safety issues.

      By all means, you should travel sparingly but contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of jobs that require your physical presence and you’re being ignorant and entitled to pretend otherwise. Cutting costs doesn’t mean that you can actually do a job 100% with limited resources. If costs were the only important thing, we’d outsource your job that’s so perfectly acceptable to do remotely and let someone do it for much cheaper from another cheaper location. Just remember that.

      1. Dave*

        Just because it is a remote construction site doesn’t necessarily mean a trip that in 2019 wouldn’t have been a big deal couldn’t be accommodated in a new way in 2021. It may require additional data devices but if you can get any kind of cell single Facetime type calls on job sites can solve some but not all problems. It is worth looking at creative solutions as much as possible. Some jobs ultimately require travel but all options should be explored to see if it can be avoided.

        1. chewingle*

          Yep. Depending on the nature of LW’s job, being on-site might just be something the company prefers, but is not necessary (for instance, if they are a lead engineer for the project. A friend of mine does this and never leaves his living room, even pre-COVID).

        2. JustaTech*

          I just had an inspection by the power company that happened all over Facetime. On the other hand, I was supposed to inspect a plant in March 2020 in Italy and they categorically refused to even try a video inspection.

      2. TL -*

        Yup. Some things you can’t do remotely, so you have to travel. And for many others, there is a real cost to doing things remotely. That cost is more acceptable currently, but a lot of my remote meetings would have benefited a LOT from doing at least one, initial in-person meeting. I very much look forward to being able to have in-person meetings again.

        I would assume that if the LW has been able to work remotely this whole time, this is probably a necessary work trip. And yes, they may have asked/told the LW because someone legitimately cannot go – that seems fairly reasonable to me.

      3. Franz Kafkaesque*

        Wow. You are reading a great deal into my response that simply isn’t there. AAM literally asks the same exact thing in her response: “Is travel absolutely necessary?” And the LW literally says they have never been asked to travel for this job before.

        Of course I recognize that many jobs cannot be done remotely. I’ve done tons of those kinds of jobs (and I’m not an idiot). And, as I clearly stated, my Side Note was about my own personal cirucmstance.

        Your response was incredibly rude and uncalled for. Have a nice day.

        1. Not A Girl Boss*

          I mean, the response was a little aggressive and not *necessarily* applicable here, but I do get where they’re coming from. Its exhausting to be constantly questioned on how essential my essential business travel is. Every single person who happens to come to know that travel for works thinks they have a right to an opinion about it.
          The social judgement can be very strong these days and I suspect they are similarly sick of justifying their choices to remain employed, and probably just took it out on the wrong place/time.

          1. Cordoba*

            I have travelled routinely (even internationally) throughout the pandemic, as part my job doing hands-on support of critical medical equipment. Much of that equipment is being used right now to fight Covid on 4 continents.

            I have exactly no patience at this point for people who think I should have stayed home instead, or that if I just worked a little harder would be able to do the whole job via Skype anyway.

            Is Covid travel a risk? Sure it is. So is the work I do with high-voltage electricity or flammable gasses, but that stuff is just part of my job too. I make it as safe as possible, and accept that the positive outcomes (to me individually and the world generally) are worth my taking that rationally managed risk.

            1. pancakes*

              It’s far from certain that the letter writer’s work is similarly of vital importance and that there are no alternatives to them providing hands-on support. To the contrary, the letter mentions they have never been asked to travel for work before this. I can certainly understand how frustrating it must be to have people who don’t understand the nature of your work guessing at whether it’s truly necessary for you to travel, but it doesn’t follow that everyone else asked to travel for work is in the same situation.

            2. Strategy consultant*

              +1

              “I have travelled routinely (even internationally) throughout the pandemic, as part my job doing hands-on support of critical medical equipment. Much of that equipment is being used right now to fight Covid on 4 continents. I have exactly no patience at this point for people who think I should have stayed home instead, or that if I just worked a little harder would be able to do the whole job via Skype anyway.”

          2. Franz Kafkaesque*

            I agree with you and I’m certainly not questioning the “essentialness” of other people’s jobs. But, a lot of us are definitely questioning many employers’ assessments of whether face-to-face contact really is essential (and I think the LW is too). We are on your side here.

          3. Chilipepper*

            It was more than a little aggressive and no one is questioning whether the commenters here should travel or not. The OP does not want to travel and folks are believing her, as per commenting rules. The comments are about that.

      4. Mayor of Llamatown*

        Using the phrase “ignorant and entitled” is an unnecessarily combative way to approach this.

      5. Chinook*

        I think that they are travelling to a remote area in a state with low case numbers is also significant because a) overall lower risk and b) they aren’t taking it as seriously there because the illness is more theoretical. My parents live in a place like that. Their part of Alberta has very few cases and no one knows anyone who hadn’t travelled elsewhere who caught it, never mind got seriously ill from it. The understand why I am putting off visiting them because I live in an area of a high concentration of cases, even if it is only 200 km away, but it still isn’t real in the same way because the illness hasn’t reached them yet and they really do have a very low risk as long as they don’t interact with “outsiders” (i.e. anyone from the city or travelling on the highway).

        While I respect the OP’s reluctance to visit a site where they aren’t taking it seriously, she also may want refrain from judging them too harshly because, if you are physically isolated from other places due to location and the illness isn’t in the community, then there really isn’t a reason to wear masks and do the social distancing. If anything, the OP could be the “danger” to the community that makes the locals mask up on site.

        1. Finland*

          This doesn’t take into consideration the requirement to fly to that low-risk area. There is no guarantee that people on the plane are going to be careful or take all of it seriously either. Low-risk doesn’t mean no risk, especially if others are potentially visiting the site from high-risk areas too.

          I have to travel regularly as a critical worker and I learned, recently, that someone I worked with had to travel on a crowded plane in order to get to the worksite to join me. I drive exclusively. I felt very bad for that person because they told me that many flights were canceled and people were not cautious about wearing masks. Doing that for a job that doesn’t require you to be on site, but is just an employer preference, to me is cruel.

          1. LJay*

            This. I absolutely do need to travel for my job.

            I am also deathly afraid of getting COVID. I feel like it’s only a matter of time. And I personally try to be as safe as possible.

            I’ve been traveling with an N95 underneath a 3 layer cloth mask with a filter since the news of the more contagious strains emerging came out.

            But I know not everyone is me. People in the airports take down their masks when staff isn’t looking. People are eating and drinking leisurely and take off their masks. People in my own company don’t take it seriously. Some hotels in some states are terrible at enforcing mask policies.

            (Honesly long trips by car aren’t super great either. The number of small gas stations and truck stops in the middle of nowhere where nobody – staff or customers – are wearing masks is too damn high.

            If your job absolutely requires you to travel you do what you have to do. But I absolutely have empathy for people whose jobs don’t require travel that are being asked to travel right now and think they should absolutely push back because anyone who doesn’t need to travel right now should not be.

            1. LJay*

              Also I’m leaving this job at the end of the month and while COVID isn’t one of the main reasons, it was definitely a factor in determining whether to accept the new offer I received.

              It’s a small pay cut but going from essentially 100% travel to 20% travel at most and probably none during COVID made the offer much more enticing.

      6. Quill*

        The point of asking “do you really need to travel” is actually determining “is this something that actually requires our physical presence.” A remote construction site could be one of these, but it depends a lot on what OP’s job actually is and what the purposes of this trip – and the timelines for accomplishing them – actually are.

        I don’t think it’s entitled to spend a significant amount of time considering how we can mitigate risks of permanent injury and death. After all, many of the jobs that today would require a physical presence at work only got as relatively safe (covid aside) as they are because someone insisted on taking safety precautions. Not traveling at this time can be considered as a potential safety precaution, much like masks and other PPE.

      7. Forrest*

        OP also says they’ve never been required to travel for work before, which makes it unlikely that they’re a surveyor or a engineer? If they are someone who is required by law to sign off on construction work it seems likely that they’d have travelled before now, they the need to be physically on site would have been mentioned, and they’d probably also have some professional guidelines from their regulatory body to work to.

        I would guess that if even if there is a need for someone to be on site, OP isn’t the person with the regulatory responsibility and their work is something that can be done remotely (since that is what they’ve been doing all year.) It sounds like it’s more of a, “Julie is our structural engineer, she’ll be checking the steel work and we also wanted you to meet Tom, who’ll be doing all the artwork for the brochures.”

      8. Ahsoka Tano*

        Wow, you need to calm down, The Man Becky Lynch. Calling other folks ignorant and entitled is rude and against the commenting rules on this website. Please be kind to your fellow AAM readers.

      9. Theory of Eeveelution*

        There’s nothing “ignorant and entitled” about one person examining a situation through the lens of their own personal experience.

      10. Former Employee*

        “By all means, you should travel sparingly but contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of jobs that require your physical presence and you’re being ignorant and entitled to pretend otherwise.”

        The OP said that they have never had to travel for their job before. Their physical presence has never before been required. Apparently this isn’t one of those jobs.

    3. Not A Girl Boss*

      One thing I forgot to include in my list below is that I negotiated with my company (in writing) that they would cover insurance deductibles related to COVID and give me an extra 2 weeks PTO if I contracted COVID while traveling for them.

      Not ideal, because yes there’s long term stuff they wouldn’t cover and also I’d rather, you know, not get sick. But these are things you can (and should) ask for.

      1. Chinook*

        Excellent things to negotiate. You are basically making them state, in writing, that doing the job they have requested you to do should not cost you extra money.

    4. MeepMeep*

      Yup. A friend of mine has wound up with LongCOVID – she was a healthy middle-aged woman, not any sort of high-risk person. She’s now looking at a 2-4 month period of time when she can’t work at all. Is OP’s workplace going to cover 4 months of disability leave? If not, changing jobs while you’re still healthy is a prudent choice.

    5. Strategy consultant*

      “If a company required travel for my particular job, I’d just be thinking: “There goes my raise” or “There goes my bonus”

      You do realize that many of us chose our career paths precisely because we enjoy business travel? I am a strategy consultant, previously with one of the MBB, now with a boutique. I joined (rather than going for a career as a diplomat) precisely because this job not only offers the opportunity for travel — the job IS travel. This industry is notorious for long hours and hard work. If someone came to me and said, “welp, it’s all going to be remote work out of your home office from now on,” I would be out of here.

      Fortunately, that’s not going to be the case. Everyone I work with is chomping at the bit to get travelling to client sites again.

      Once I read a college career guide for people thinking of going into strategy consulting. The litmus test was “do airplanes make you happy or sad”? If they make you sad, consulting isn’t the career path for you.

      1. Finland*

        There’s no evidence that the OP hates travel. All the evidence points to not wanting to travel during a pandemic. My job requires me to travel too (and I chose my job mainly for its travel component), but if I were told to go on an airplane during these times, I would absolutely refuse. I know people who have retired early from their jobs so that they wouldn’t be forced to travel against their will in these times. Is the employer willing to lose this employee (one way or another)? It might be a possibility, especially given that the employer is used to having people stay in the same hotel room (!).

      2. allathian*

        Right, but that’s not the case for the OP, who has never had to travel for this job before. I would certainly be peeved if I’d taken a job that didn’t require travel… until it did. Sure, employers are allowed to change the job description if it becomes necessary, but good employers don’t do it without negotiating with the employee.

        That said, if the trip is truly unavoidable and essential in this case, I hope that the OP can push back a bit to make things as safe as possible. Key points for me would be at least to be allowed to drive rather than fly and not to share a hotel room with anyone, and extra PTO if you get sick on the trip or need to quarantine.

        I’ve flown precisely once in my current job, and that was in unusual circumstances (a process development project I was otherwise extremely excited to be a part of). I couldn’t sleep the night before because I was so anxious about getting on the plane. I got through the job OK but I was really happy it was a Friday, so I could sleep all weekend. I have absolutely no memories of the flights, either coming or going.

        I hate flying, and the last time I went on a vacation that required me to fly was in 2003.

        A consulting job sounds like one of my worst nightmares. The long working hours and the constantly changing working environment would make me mentally and probably physically ill in short order. But variety is the spice of life and wouldn’t it be boring if we all enjoyed the same things?

      3. Franz Kafkaesque*

        Yes, of course many jobs absolutely require that they be done in person. Obviously. Nowhere did I state otherwise. I’m simply referring to the great number of jobs and tasks that do not require it and the benefits (safety, financial, etc.) of no longer requiring these tasks to be performed in person. That’s it.
        You seem to be deliberately misreading my comment just so you can wedge in these talking points.

    6. Letter Writer*

      In this case, SOMEONE will have to travel to this site, though it’s not required that I be the one to do so. And yeah, I think by declining I definitely hurt my standing in the company at least a little… by not being willing to die for the job.

  4. MMMMmmmmmmmMMM*

    Here’s the thing. And it may get me a lot of flack. But if you’re getting pushback about traveling during a pandemic, and you don’t want to go, I’d lie.
    I’m not typically a proponent of lying in the workplace. But damn, if an immunocompromised relative is what it takes to actually get your concerns recognized, you bet I’ll make sure Aunt Jean is staying with me.
    I’m just /so tired/ of people not caring about ending this pandemic.

    1. Franz Kafkaesque*

      I’d do exactly the same thing. And immediately start looking for another job if at all possible. But, I’d have no qualms about lying to keep my paycheck coming in until i could find something else. I’d still do my job to the best of my ability until then, but yeah, I agree.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’d just straight up tell them that even being young and healthy is not 100% protection against dying from Covid. I’ve lost friends to this plague, perfectly healthy under 40s people one week…dead the next.

      ‘I don’t want to die to Covid’ should be a good enough point. Although sadly, some people don’t see it that way.

    3. Cat Tree*

      I’m in several high risk categories and I would be perfectly fine with a healthy person lying to protect herself. Covid is a leading cause of death right now, I think surpassing heart disease and cancer. It’s extremely contagious and even healthy adults can suffer long-term effects. Even if the only problem is long-term loss of smell, imagine the danger that poses with a house fire or spoiled food.

      There’s no such thing as “low risk” when it comes to Covid. There is only high risk and very high risk. I’m very riled up about this.

    4. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      I am going to disagree with this advice. While I get where you are coming from on this, and I certainly don’t disagree as I, too, am fatigued by COVID fatigue, suggesting someone lie to their employer is TERRIBLE advice. What if they ask her to furnish proof to relieve her of the travel requirement or to otherwise accommodate? Whether or not you think they should doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t ask for this, and this could put her job in jeopardy. Lying is always grounds for termination, even if it seems otherwise justifiable.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        That’s why I suggested straight up just saying they don’t want to die from Covid. Because there’s not a single age or health or social demographic that HASN’T had deaths to this virus.

        ‘Young and healthy people are at no risk’ is a very popular misconception. It’s also complete BS.

        1. Strategy consultant*

          This reads like fodder from one of those LSAT/GMAT logic tests.

          “That’s why I suggested straight up just saying they don’t want to die from Covid. Because there’s not a single age or health or social demographic that HASN’T had deaths to this virus.”

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Eh? I’m simply saying that it would be nice if people and companies accepted that everyone is at risk of dying from this. There should be no need to make up issues you didn’t have.

    5. willow for now*

      Side note – I am tired of people around me going on vacations to hot spots, then coming back and wondering why I won’t interact with them for a while.

    6. Paris Geller*

      I think in this situation if one needs to lie they should not even feel a little bit guilty about it. Plenty of “low risk” people have contracted covid and passed or had long-term effects. Of course plenty of “low risk” people have contracted covid and been OK or even symptom-free, but you just don’t know which category you’ll be in until you get sick, and that’s not an experiment anyone wants to take.

    7. LJay*

      Yeah one of my employees got basically the most generic note in the world from their doctor and my company accepted it. I would see if that is an option.

      It basically says “The CDC has advised that people should avoid going out in public, keep away from people that are sick, and stay home to limit close contact as much as possible during the pandemic to avoid the risk of being exposed to COVID-19. As a healthcare provider I have advised my patients to follow these guidelines and to avoid non-essential trips outside the home and all non-essential travel”.

      Because those are the guidelines and I’m pretty sure most physicians don’t want people to get sick or to be unknowing carriers and make the outbreak worse I don’t think it is disingenuous or that it would be difficult to get.

    8. Letter Writer*

      I said this in a longer reply below, but I did end up including a little lie… “Due to family circumstances I don’t feel comfortable traveling in the pandemic”. It was definitely easier to send that reply with the lie, but I do wish I would have just addressed the issue head-on.

  5. Moving sight unseen*

    I’m kind of in the opposite scenario – I’m job-hunting (my current position ends in June) and have only been invited to virtual final round interviews at the places I’m considering. I’m not going to stay in the geographic region I’m currently in, so all the positions I’m interviewing for would necessitate a cross-country move, and I’m terrified about having to accept a position and move to a city I’ve never been to!

    1. LTL*

      You can still visit the city pre-moving if you’d like to. But it makes sense that employers are being reasonable about not asking anyone to fly during this time.

      1. Moving sight unseen*

        True, but the city would factor a lot into whether or not I would accept an offer. At this point I’m a finalist for two jobs:

        — Job A. The role seems pretty good, and the organization has a great reputation in the industry. But it’s HQed in a not-so-safe neighborhood in City A, and I’ve never been to City A at all.

        — Job B. The role also seems pretty good, but the organization is still a startup and the Glassdoor reviews seem to support “toxic startup culture.” It’s HQed in City B, which is actually my hometown, and where my family still lives.

        I’d also mention that pre-COVID it was standard in my industry for these organizations to fly people out and their expense, and also pay for relocation. They are still paying for relocation, though, which I guess could be used for pre-moving trips to the city to scout for housing, etc. Both places are too far to reasonably drive (one is 20 hours away; another is 26 hours away by car from where I’m currently based), but I have been fortunate to have completed my COVID vaccination series several weeks ago so I have no qualms about getting on a plane tomorrow.

        1. Meg*

          ugh I’m sorry, that’s a stressful position to be in. I don’t mean to dismiss your concerns, and obviously it’s a huge deal to move to a place you’ve never been. But, can you try to find people to talk to who live in City A? Again, I don’t want to come across as dismissive of your concerns, and there are plenty of not safe neighborhoods, but as someone who has lived for 6+ years in an area in a city that many people would probably deem unsafe I would personally do some due diligence on how true that is. It may well be in an unsafe area, or it may be an an area that hasn’t been gentrified.

          Good luck with both jobs!

        2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          I’d probably take the chance on City A given the other factors, especially if you can find some feedback from people who live in/around there. Also, just because the job is in a less-than-desirable neighborhood doesn’t mean you necessarily need to live in that neighborhood.

          The hometown connection definitely has pull for a lot of reasons, too, but I’d be hesitant to ignore the “toxic startup culture” warnings. :(

        3. Treena*

          I seriously doubt there could be a neighborhood that is too dangerous to even go to work. A lot of neighborhoods with bad reputations are actually lovely.

          1. Self Employed*

            Given how “bad neighborhood” is often a dogwhistle for “Black neighborhood” unless Glassdoor reviews mention “I was mugged on my way to my car” it might not actually be unsafe. It may also have been gentrified since the time it got the reputation; I know people who were so afraid of the downtown area where I live that they literally haven’t been here since it was redeveloped. When they reluctantly visit me, they’re absolutely shocked it isn’t full of peep shows and associated illegal activities like it was back in the day.

    2. catcatcat*

      There are definitely ways to minimize this risk– I did a mid-pandemic move, though it was to a city where I have family. Take advantage of the real estate agents/landlords doing live video chat walk throughs. Research the city’s neighborhoods and look at the crime maps to narrow your search. Join neighborhood Facebook groups. That way, you may be able to conduct much of your housing search from afar, without having to do multiple trips to view places in-person (beware of scammers, though– if the landlord or an agent starts talking about being out of town and mailing keys/security deposit, run. It may seem more reasonable in pandemic-times, but scammers are taking advantage of that)

      1. Moving sight unseen*

        I’m less worried about that stuff — I’m more worried that I will have to move to a city I’ve never been to and have no family in, and hope that I will be happy there. I had to move to a city I was barely familiar with and had no family in/near 4 years ago (I flew out for one weekend while interviewing), and it’s been an awful experience on almost every front. The culture is very contrary to my own personal beliefs, I’ve faced a lot of discrimination, and the workplace situation has been awful. I don’t want history to repeat itself in this case.

        1. meyer lemon*

          I’m not sure if an in-person trip right now would tell you all that much about what the city is like in general. I live in a city that I normally really like, but very few of the things that I like about it currently exist. I’m also not sure if it’s possible to get a feel for the culture if you have to keep your distance from everyone. Right now, you might get a better sense by seeking out firsthand accounts from people who have moved there in similar circumstances.

        2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          It’s not the same as being there, but if what you’re trying to get a sense of is things like local politics, a lot of local government and school board meetings are being livestreamed these days. I know my local school district keeps their old meetings up on YouTube. Seeing what issues are being argued about by local politicians, and what kinds of positions they’re publicly taking, may give you some sense of what kind of community you’re moving into.

          1. Self Employed*

            Also by the kind of public comments you see at the council meetings, recognizing that you typically get people at the two extremes of any issue because that’s who bothers to log in and wait for a turn to speak.

        3. Sutemi*

          Where I have lived, there were some significant differences from neighborhood to neighborhood. Would you consider something like a 1-2 month AirBnB to start so you don’t need a lease sight unseen?

  6. Not A Girl Boss*

    My work requires me to travel (fly) monthly for work. Unfortunately, there was no way to get out of it and keep my job. But here’s some things that I’ve learned and negotiated for. I went into negotiations with my employer with this list and have continued to negotiate for more as I gain experience… which was more successful than just trying to wiggle out of having to go.

    -I personally have observed flying to be much safer than driving when I started to count up all the uncontrolled interactions at rest stops, all the states I had to get fast food from, the tolls, the extra hotel days, etc. Also, you can Google search some info about how the air on airplanes is actually some of the safest to breathe. The airlines are very strict on mask use and the travel time is so much shorter that I can avoid taking my mask off to eat until I get to my destination.
    -My flying non negotiables: I fly exclusively on Delta (they don’t book a middle seat) and work provided me a true N95 mask to wear while I fly. I also upgraded my luggage to a hard case I can wipe down easily and only do carry on.
    -Likewise, many hotel chains have strict cleaning policies in place. However, they also have more people in the lobby and such who have dubious mask wearing practices.
    -On the hotel downside, that means I have to eat food out, and especially in certain parts of the country the food service employees have 0 compliance. Doesn’t much matter if you get takeout if the chef was making out with / groping his girlfriend in the kitchen while he made my food (a real thing I observed).
    My non negotiable: I’ve found I feel much safer if I stay at an AirBnB or extended stay so I can cook my own food. It also helps limit the number of people interacting with my space. On the downside, I feel the need to re-clean everything before I unpack.
    -One other non negotiable: I rent my own car, I don’t Uber or carpool or anything like that.
    -Something I negotiated with work: They pay for a COVID test every time I return from travel, and pays for a hotel room until I get the all clear. Obviously not perfect, but reduces the risk some. My husband is an essential worker so he is not allowed to go into work if I just came home from travel and saw him.
    -I buy really expensive, really good quality immune boosting vitamins (especially vitamin D) and expense it to work as part of my trip costs. They’ve yet to say anything about it.

    And one final piece of advice:
    I got really comfortable correcting people who weren’t compliant around me. I practiced with family members some standard requests so that it became second nature to spit them out under durress. Not that you should have to, but I had more success getting people to be compliant when I phrased it as a “me thing” and a favor I was requesting, instead of engaging in political debate about mask effectiveness. My go to is “I’m sorry, would you mind coming back when you’ve got a mask? My family lost two members to COVID this year, and my husband would probably have a mental breakdown if I came down with it, even though I’d probably be fine.” (That’s a true story, but feel free to steal it for yourself LW. Its not lying, you’re part of my AMA family).

    I’m sorry you’re in this boat, LW.

    1. Malarkey01*

      This is incredibly helpful. Personally I think zero travel is acceptable for me, but if someone does need to travel these are great notes.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        I definitely understand/respect if your acceptable limit is zero.
        My dad broke his leg in December and I told them there was no way I was traveling until it healed because I couldn’t help him out if needed and they begrudgingly combined my December/January trips into one long February one.

        But also, even if you’re a perfectly low-risk and never see an at-risk person, that’s an acceptable decision to make.
        Personally, the definite downsides of a lack of income just outweighed the risks for me…

      2. 30 Years in the Biz*

        Fantastic advice! Thank you for sharing! Love the AAM comment at the end too :) It does feel like a family.

    2. Foxy Hedgehog*

      This is it.

      I have to travel weekly. Take comfort in the fact that there are very few “super-spreader” events associated with air travel (and most of those on longer international flights and early in the pandemic before airline mask mandates). Unlike retail stores and restaurants, airlines enforce mask wearing quite strictly in my experience. I also want to commend Delta for their middle seat policy (middle seats are only sold to passengers traveling together with somebody on the aisle and/or window), and for being strict about mask wearing for their passengers.

      As far as hotels are concerned, you should be fine in your room as long as you get a room by yourself. COVID spreads almost exclusively by airborne particles; the virus just doesn’t last long at all on surfaces. Make sure you tell the front desk you don’t want housekeeping during your stay–and hang up the Do Not Disturb sign. Also yes, get a rental car instead of a taxi/rideshare

      The biggest risk to the traveler is when getting food. Restaurants are terrible as you point out–that’s where all of the “super-spreader” risk is. See if you can bring along some food (and make sure your hotel has a microwave or is an extended stay with a kitchen).

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        Delta really is the best. They promptly handled a few uncompliant people on a few of my flights.

        Although can we just take a moment to laugh together about how they go to all of the trouble to pass out wrapped snack packs and hand sanitizer, which everyone promptly takes their mask off to eat all at the same time? I mean, I just leave *my* mask on so its fine-ish, but I have to laugh that no one can wait 30 minutes to eat their Cheez Its after we land.

        1. Foxy Hedgehog*

          Ha! And those gross soggy “nutrition bars.”

          Oh, also, my company supplies N95 masks. I would suggest the OP should ask their company to provide N95 or some equivalent level of Personal Protective Equipment.

      2. RabbitRabbit*

        Having had to travel during the pandemic, I found myself doing carryout from nearby restaurants, bringing it back to the room to eat it there. That minimizes the pandemic-specific risk of having to unmask around others.

        1. kt*

          My relative who had to undergo site-specific training (million-dollar equipment in only one US location) got some sort of Whole Foods delivery to his hotel for about two weeks. Sure, it’s expensive, but he was able to avoid even the necessity of scoping out restaurants. This may not be possible in a rural area.

          1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            I haven’t had to stay in a hotel during the pandemic, but here are some pre-pandemic strategies I used to make it easier to eat in my hotel room during conventions that may apply to pandemic-era hotel stays:

            – Before my trip, I’d look on Google Maps for nearby grocery stores and see if there was anything within walking distance (there often is). If you’re renting a car, you could instead research stores which are at least vaguely nearby and offer curbside pickup.

            – If possible, I’d get a room with a fridge and microwave. If not possible, I have a small soft-sided cooler that fits in my luggage. I fill it with a few ziplock bags of ice from the hotel ice machine, which I replace once a day with fresh ice.

            – For food, I buy a mix of shelf-stable things (usually Triscuits, nuts, and fresh fruits/veggies – if I’m going to eat breakfast in the room also oatmeal) and “refrigeration would be nice, but not completely required for a day or two” things like sliced cheddar cheese and more fruits/veggies. (The last go in the fridge if I have one and the cooler if I don’t. I still try to keep everything fridge-temp using the cooler, but there’s a big difference risk-wise between veggies and, say, raw meat if the temperature isn’t perfect.)

            – If I have both a fridge and a microwave, I don’t want to eat out regularly, and it’ll be more than a few days, I’ll also buy eggs, butter, and some kind of microwave-safe container (probably a Pyrex liquid measure if the store has one, a ceramic coffee mug if they don’t). It’s easy to make scrambled eggs in a microwave so that opens up more options.

            (At cons, I usually try to eat one “real” meal out, one “grab and go” meal out, and one “in-room” meal each day rather than live completely off room-prepared food so I haven’t worried about more complicated dishes, but if you have both a fridge and a microwave there are probably a lot more options to explore beyond scrambled eggs as well if you decide to go that route.)

      3. Barb*

        Yes, I can’t believe so many people here would rather drive. Like it’s safer to go to random rest spots where people might be eating anywhere and mask wearing won’t be enforced? Maybe it makes people feel better to drive, but it’s not necessarily safer and there’s no data to back up that it’s safer.

      4. Self Employed*

        Another point about hotels, it’s pretty typical these days to have individual PTAC heat pumps for heating/cooling instead of central air HVAC. This will eliminate any potential risk of virus spreading through the air ducts.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      Someone I know has been flying cross country every few months to deal with an ill relative the entire pandemic and she hasn’t gotten it yet, thank goodness. She says similar about the flights.

    4. So Anon for this*

      I’m in Canada. My husband had to travel to the UK last year – non-negotiable. He knew people who quit rather than travel. His company has been really good about avoiding as much travel as possible but honestly, sometimes travel even in these circumstances is unavoidable. In our case the travel was well considered and like above, there was care taken into the arrangements – kitchenettes were required, he was able to cook, etc. Thankfully masks were mandatory where he went, etc. He quarantined until his results came back (which we waited 7 days for to be safe) because I’m high risk. His company covered the cost.

      I think outrage people have on behalf of the OP (not Not a Girl Boss – but others) is misplaced if the company does everything they can to minimize the impact. Sometimes travel is unavoidable – even during a pandemic.

      1. meyer lemon*

        Well, I can understand that some people might decide they’re willing to take the risk of work travel, and I understand that there are some things that can’t be done remotely. But it’s still a big deal to ask someone to travel during a pandemic: it’s asking them to potentially risk their health or life, or the lives of their family members, for work. And in jobs where that isn’t normally expected, some employers fail to really appreciate the gravity of what they’re asking, and may not be fully thinking through alternatives or risk mitigation strategies they can offer. So I wouldn’t necessarily assume good faith on the part of employers until you’ve had a chance to discuss the situation with them.

    5. Rusty Shackelford*

      The airlines are very strict on mask use

      Is this still true, though? I thought I read the rules had changed, or would soon be changing.

      1. acmx*

        No. It’s now federally required to wear a mask on airlines* (US) and you must put your mask back on between bites.
        *All public transportation.

        1. allathian*

          Between bites? That just leads to a lot of unsafe mask use. It’s all done for optics and won’t do much good. I suppose the idea is that people hold their breath when they take a bite and only breathe through the mask, but…

          1. Treena*

            It’s more for the people who take 30 minutes to eat a sandwich. I’ve seen people sitting around talking mask-less with food in front of them. If you’re biting, chewing, and swallowing non-stop, no one will likely care.

      2. LJay*

        I have heard that they will now offer a medical exemption for mask wearing which concerns me.

        I hope that if this is the case they do like Delta has been since the beginning of the pandemic and make them consult with Delta’s own doctors rather than taking notes from whatever quack out there feels like writing them.

        But in my experience on the flights compliance and enforcement is very good. However, in the airports in the boarding area etc is hit or miss. If you get to the boarding area more than a little bit before boarding often there is no gate agent there yet and so nobody to enforce mask usage. A few airports look like the have security going through and enforcing but definitely not all of them do.

        1. acmx*

          Well, now that it’s a federal mandate, airlines would have to allow exemptions to conform with ADA.

          Some exemptions would be if you are speaking to someone who cannot hear you with a mask on or would need to read lips, person is incapable of donning/doffing a mask on their own.

    6. Sam I Am*

      As an addendum: 1)I recently flew United and that are booking all seats, and did nothing about the maskless wonder the entirety of the flight. If the seatbelt sign was off so was his mask.
      2) I wore an N95 over my face, and “medical grade goggles” which sealed around my eyes. Think safety goggles, not swim goggles. But not safety glasses: there was no venting. Fogged up a bit during take off & landing.
      I kept the whole shebang on the whole flight, no little sips of water. So I really hydrated before going to the airport.
      Just got my negative COVID test back today.
      Good luck!

    7. Letter Writer*

      Excellent points, thanks!!! And thanks for your final piece of advice. Just yesterday I was in a meeting with a superior who looked at me and goes “It’s okay if I take my mask off, right?” and… I said nothing. I really need to grow some boundaries, and feel comfortable pushing back. Thanks for your script and advice!!

  7. Quinalla*

    I’m really sorry OP and you should push back. Travel is a part of my job, though generally we have enough people that want to travel that no one does that doesn’t want to, but things are different now and they have made it even more explicit that travel is 100% optional for everyone, no reason needed. There are people who are willing to fly/drive – I’m still willing to drive “locally” (about 3 hour round trip is about my limit for safety and childcare reasons) and no one has had an issue with that. So I would definitely push back and if this is something that could be done remotely (I’m guessing not, but who knows) then push for that for sure. If you end up going, definitely put down hard limits as Alison suggested and Not A Girl Boss above has some great suggestions too.

    Good luck and I think it is crappy for them to be told you are flying somewhere when you have never traveled before with this company, good grief!

    1. Letter Writer*

      Thank you! I did end up pushing back and will not be going. It’s good to hear your experience as well, thanks for sharing!

  8. Dave*

    I understand not wanting to go, but feeling like you are putting a co-worker in a difficult spot where they may have to go may not be a problem depending on your co-workers. One of the ways I have managed the pandemic is letting people I work with who do not think COVID is a big deal do all the activities that I deem unsafe. They are the people going out eat at every opportunity and crossed state lines during the original full shut down because neighboring states didn’t take it seriously.
    Also as you do push back on this how has your office generally handled COVID? Have there been any work cases?
    As a 30 something without high risk conditions I have kind of tiered of that being a reason I should risk my life. There are plenty of news articles about 30 somethings dying, having long COVID, etc. If you aren’t comfortable push back now of all times.

    1. catcatcat*

      Yeah, and a healthy 30-something is still just as big a risk when it comes to spreading the virus!

    2. mf*

      Totally agree that I’m getting really tired of the assumption that young people who have no visible health conditions should take all the risks.

      And emphasis on “visible” conditions. There are lots of young people who appear perfectly healthy but actually have high risk conditions. My husband is one of these people: thirty-something, super fit, the picture of health. I can’t tell you how many times people have implied or assumed that he and I don’t need to be so careful about COVID because we’re young and healthy. But he’s actually immunosuppressed due to an autoimmune condition.

    3. Letter Writer*

      Good point! My level of personal risk is different from others. Though maybe there is just another issue that my office in general is not taking the pandemic as seriously as they should. We have been WFH since March, though a good number of people still go into the office. There have been at least 3 people in my office who have had COVID.
      When I have gone into the office, distancing and mask-wearing and occupancy limits have been followed sporadically. I work in a somewhat rural location anyway, and pandemic awareness is just not that high of a priority here…

  9. Lady Heather*

    I have to disagree with Alison on it being normal to be told to travel. Unless travel is a part of one’s job duties – as would have been mentioned in the job advertisement or the interview – being told to travel overnight seems pretty weird to me. That sort of thing should require at least some back-and-forth even during non-pandemic times, with ideally the employer finding someone agreeing to travel and only having to “force” someone as a last resort.

    1. anonarama*

      It is very normal to have to travel for work particularly if the travel is occasional. Generally people don’t have to be forced because pre-pandemic there were more people who wanted to travel than who get the opportunity to do so. The pandemic has changed that math, of course.

    2. KayDeeAye*

      It’s extremely normal – at least in my experience – to be asked to travel in pre-pandemic times. I mean, *extremely* normal. I realize that’s not the case in all industries, but in many, being asked to travel once or a couple times/year is so common as to be absolutely unremarkable.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          Well, yes. I’ve had that before as well. Certain circumstances require it. I didn’t have travel written into my job description at all, but was sent to a conference across a couple states, a training across a couple states, etc. I wasn’t traveling consistently by any means…. it worked out to once a year. There was no one else to send but me, so not really a choice of “which employee wants to go”.

          My assumption here is that it is very, very field/position dependent. What may be standard in some fields will not be ‘normal’ in others.

        2. Black Horse Dancing*

          Normal where I have worked (public sector). Training sometimes requires classes which mean travel. Yes, you are told. (You need to get X training. Find a class and time.) Then you do that. Often you travel with another co worker or take a government car or your own. You can pick the class usually but you are told to travel.

        3. KayDeeAye*

          Let’s just say that’s the expectation – the strong expectation. It’s so…so built in that most supervisors wouldn’t even look at it like “I must instruct Kay to travel to Worksite A.” It’s more like “I’ll talk to Kay about that trip to Worksite A.” To supervisors in many industries (not sure if this applies to the OP’s industry, of course), expecting employees to travel occasionally for work is exactly the same as any other expectation. My supervisors expect me to do routine tasks A, B and C, and they expect me to do major tasks D and E, and they expect me to travel from time to time, as the job requires it. It’s really that simple.

          Now, if something came up (even in pre-pandemic times) where I couldn’t travel, such as the flu or I needed to tend to my sick mother or something, my supervisors would understand that and make other arrangements. But the expectation is that barring special circumstances, I would travel for the job as needed. The job can’t get done properly without some travel, and so my supervisors have expected me to travel.

      1. Lisa*

        I think you missed Lady Heather’s point. She is talking about telling vs asking and you talked about asking. It is normal to ask, “Would you like to go the ZYX Conference this year?” IME it is not normal to tell a non-traveling employee out of the blue that they need to travel.

        1. KayDeeAye*

          I don’t think we are, really. I suspect that the supervisor doesn’t perceive the OP as “non-traveling employee.”

          1. Self Employed*

            If OP’s job description doesn’t include travel and OP has never been requested to travel, then why shouldn’t OP be surprised?

            I have only had ONE job that required travel and over a dozen that it would never have been relevant to my job.

        2. KayDeeAye*

          I have had many job descriptions in my (now really long!) career, none of them mentioned travel, and yet almost all of those jobs required at least some travel. It was simply the expectation – on both sides – that some travel would be required . Should this have been mentioned in the job description? Yes, probably. But since I assumed I would have to travel at least a bit, and my various employers assumed I would be OK with that, it worked out. The reason it didn’t work out as well here is that the OP didn’t have the same expectation whereas the employer clearly did. Maybe there is a bad guy here, but it sounds to me as though it is simply a mismatch in expectations.

      1. allathian*

        I think this depends very much on the field. In some jobs and fields, it’s completely normal to never travel for work at all. In others it’s a request, where people who are OK with the occasional business trip get a reputation of being flexible and keen to advance and are more likely to get a promotion. In still others, it’s a demand, as in travel or you’re fired. But I would expect that if travel is a truly non-negotiable requirement of the job, the employees know this when they accept the offer.

    3. MCMonkeybean*

      I agree, if it’s not normally part of the job then I would think they should ask if it’s possible rather than randomly demanding something like that in most cases. Even in non-pandemic times there are lots of reasons that a last-minute travel assignment would be very difficult for a person who doesn’t usually expect to travel to work to manage.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. Childcare issues, eldercare issues, pet care issues just to start with! And all of these are compounded by the pandemic, quite apart from the risk of getting COVID.

    4. Letter Writer*

      My work is project-dependent, and typically the projects are within 1-2 hours, but this one is rare in that it’s out-of-state. Pre-pandemic, I would be fine traveling, but my company does have some policies that make me not want to travel: the main one being that I’d have to share a hotel room with a coworker. After a week on site, seeing that person all day and then again all night is a non-starter for me, even if they were the most pleasant person in the world. After reading some of these responses, I feel more confident that I can push back against that policy however.

  10. Essess*

    Be aware of changes in the last few weeks to add protections for safety in jobs. If you talk to your employer about requiring masks and about single-person hotel rooms and they refuse, if you end up having to quit because of feeling unsafe, there was an executive order signed by President Biden that should allow you to collect unemployment benefits. According to the article, you have to show that you did talk to management about the concerns and they refused to comply with CDC standards for safety (such as masks and social distancing).
    https://www.cnbc.com/2021/01/26/biden-order-workers-can-refuse-unsafe-work-still-get-unemployment.html

    I’m not saying you should threaten to quit if they don’t give you what you want. I’m just giving you new info that is available for you for this situation.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s actually not the law yet — this article is really misleading! If you look at the wording of the executive order it links to, what Biden has done is “ask the U.S. Department of Labor to consider clarifying that workers who refuse unsafe working conditions can still receive unemployment insurance.” That clarification has not yet been issued. That would be a massive change — a really good one but seriously enormous and would result in a ton of additional unemployment claims. Given that, I’m somewhat skeptical that it really will happen, at least not without a ton of exceptions, although I hope it will.

      1. Essess*

        Thank you for your clarification. I read through the article to figure out if it was in effect. I thought it was in effect since it said he had signed the executive order. I hope they finalize that quickly while people are being affected by this situation.

  11. Mockingjay*

    I am traveling next week for work. I expressed concerns to my boss (and in this forum). The job is for a different project than my own; I was asked – this is the difference between me and OP – because the usual team members are in a higher COVID risk group and do not have medical clearance to travel.

    Things that made me more comfortable:

    Protocol: My company requires us to stay in our “bubble” before travel, and quarantine after. Since I telework and don’t ever go anywhere during this pandemic, I’m fine with this. I have a spare room and bathroom at home to use, separate from the rest of the family.

    Flights. I was able to select the only airline in the US which still has middle seats open. I researched cabin air quality. Modern aircraft completely replace cabin air with clean air from outside through HEPA filters every 6 – 10 minutes. I picked a short layover to minimize time spent in airport.

    PPE: my company supplies KN-95 masks, sanitizer, wipes, and gloves to all traveling employees.

    Hotel: I was able to max out the per diem rate to pick a higher end hotel that takes sanitizing seriously.

    Rental car: I have my own and do not have to share. Again was able to select from reputable national car company.

    Site: I am visiting a government facility which has very strict protocols. While a negative COVID test is not required to enter the premises, I am still getting a rapid test before I fly (to protect myself and my fellow travelers).

    Prior Travel: Several coworkers have also traveled to this and other locations in the past year. None contracted COVID during their trips.

    That said, I am a little leery about the town I will be in; it’s a tourist spot and does not have a statewide mask mandate. I’ll mask and sanitize myself, and keep distance. There should be outdoor dining available (it’s a warm spot – yay!).

    OP, do as much research as you can. Hold firm on the single hotel room and rental car. Insist on masking (that’s a deal-breaker in my book). I hope your trip goes well.

    1. Letter Writer*

      So many good points here! Since I am not essential to this project, I was able to decline travel in this case. But I’m keeping this in mind for the future in case I do need to travel for work. I’m glad you were able to put up these boundaries and that your work was accommodating!

  12. chewingle*

    I agree with Alison — even just a little bit of pushback can give your employer a little reminder that we are still in the midst of a pandemic. Mine wanted us to go back to the office back in November “because it’s better for collaboration.” That decision was being made by people who don’t go to the office themselves, even under normal circumstances. A few quick email reminders from employees that the areas of a our open office that are used for in-person collaboration are small, glassed-in rooms that will not allow for 6-feet of distance between 2 people was enough to make them back off on forcing everyone back to the office.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Oh man my company is pushing for more in-person work too. Yesterday I went into the office for a totally unnecessary in-person meeting and heard so much “wow, so great to see this collaboration going on!” I think I need to push back more, partly because so many people are just willing to follow what the bosses say with zero push back.

  13. we fly*

    I too work for a company in an industry that has to travel – we literally are an airline and currently a portion of our workforce just lost their jobs. We have put off literally every single bit of travel that we can (I last traveled in March of 2020) but we are on the edge now – we must start traveling or the business we have left won’t survive.

    1. Black Horse Dancing*

      I’m always amused by the airlines begging people to travel considering what they charge and they raked in record profits for years. Suddenly they need handouts, are laying people off, and asking for government assistance. Yet when they were flush with cash, they never thought to lower prices for people. Truly an industry where profit is privatized but loss socialized.

      1. we fly*

        My company fits nothing that you stated – we are under 500 people (50 less now). We are fallout from travel falling. We don’t need and aren’t asking for a hand out or government assistance. Our profit for the 30 + years we have been in business is not huge by any means. People forget that the travel industry isn’t just SouthWest, Delta, American and United. It is 1,000s of white and blue collar jobs lost – but I’m really glad you got to speak your peace lumping us all together as the BIG BAD EVIL whatever.

        By the way – I was talking about our employees needing to travel – not anyone else. I have not begged anyone to get on a plane and sit on a beach. I mean literally the people at our company must start traveling in order for us to survive.

    2. LJay*

      Hello fellow airline employee. Charter? Cargo?

      I’m currently passenger charter but about to go back to regional life.

      I was able to put off travel from mid-March until the beginning of June last year but I’m in materials so warehouses don’t really audit themselves and you can’t do shipping and receiving or build racks from home.

      1. JustaTech*

        Thank you, charter/cargo airline folks. Y’all saved my company’s bacon when all the passenger flights just stopped back in March/April. We’re trying to get people their medical treatments, and while charter is expensive, it saved a lot of people’s treatments.

      2. we fly*

        We are passenger and cargo. The passenger side is now shut down and we don’t know if / when it will come back. Cargo is doing ok and we have an MRO that had no customers from April through January. Thank goodness there is someone else here who understands what I mean – that it isn’t all about the giant carriers trying to suck the money out of the starving people’s hands.

        Our current issue that few outside industry realize is our faa isn’t doing observations on our captains – which means they are one by one becoming first officers – eventually there will be no captains in our fleet to fly.

    3. Letter Writer*

      Wow, I feel for you, I’m sorry it’s so rough. I have been lucky in that my industry has not really been affected by the pandemic (in fact it may be stronger now). I hope things turn around soon and gets better for you and your industry.

  14. jbn*

    In reading some of these comments, I can see that this probably doesn’t need another voice questioning the definition of essential travel, so I will just add (as someone who works in construction with a multi-state presence) — OSHA might be your friend here. Many state OSHA departments are issuing guidelines around masks, physical distancing, education, and reporting. That doesn’t mean everyone complies, of course, but it can be something to lean on if you do end up needing to travel (like getting assurances from your company that all employees will be complying with OSHA regulations or pointing to those OSHA rules as a reason why employees must comply — that can be a bigger deal than CDC guidelines because OSHA can cite you).

    And FWIW, it is possible to do construction work safely but only if management is on board, the client is on board, there’s plenty of PPE, employees comply with guidelines, etc. So it’s not EASY, but it is POSSIBLE.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Excellent point. I do not have confidence that the construction site is enforcing these rules, as you mentioned it takes the entire team to do so in order to be safe. Part of what bothered me so much about the initial ask was that there was zero mention of COVID, PPE, what my company is doing to protect employees, or any safety measures being followed.

  15. agnes*

    I’m really shocked that a company is requiring travel. I have a good friend who is an essential person on several international projects–many in areas without good internet–and they have somehow figured out how to get the work done without requiring my friend to travel onsite. Before the pandemic she traveled 75% of the time, so that shows you how drastically they had to change their business model. And yet they did and they have continued to deliver these projects on time.

    I wish you luck.

    1. jbn*

      I’m glad that you’re shocked about companies requiring travel — I hope that means you’re in a position that allows you to work remotely & I’m glad your friend is able to do the same.

      But I would also like to point out that while yes, many industries have been pleasantly surprised at how much can be done remotely & are likely to rethink certain aspects of their business in the future, there are indeed industries that have not been able to pivot as much to virtual. (We don’t yet use robots to build critical infrastructure & manufacturing facilities…)

      Beyond that, though, many industries were able to go remote *for a period of time* — but that time runs out eventually & it may not coincide with the end of the pandemic. I traveled regularly in 2018 & 2019 but haven’t been on a plane in a year; it’s been fine & I probably won’t have to until this is over but that doesn’t mean I’ve found a virtual solution to all of the things that used to require travel. It just means that those things aren’t getting done.

      Which again, is fine for NOW & I will probably make it through without needing to, but I understand how that may not be true for everyone. I don’t know how companies postpone all of those activities indefinitely (and I’m glad to not be the one making that decision) but I absolutely understand how “we can defer this for a few months…” can turn into “we’ve deferred this as long as possible but it’s urgent now” over the duration of the last year.

      What I would love to start seeing more of is an openness to conversations about risk reduction/mitigation as we get further into vaccine distribution. It’s great that many companies have managed to get things done from home but that’s not an inevitable possibility forever.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        The temporary suspension thing is a really good point. We deferred a lot of our travel a year, but as a result my travel schedule is twice as heavy in 2021.

        1. jbn*

          I luckily won’t have to do that myself (that sounds really tough!) but I just… didn’t do my job well this year. I’ll play catch up as best I can & my boss isn’t judging me for it or anything, it’s just progress lost in many intangible ways.

          I know this feeling extends beyond just not being able to travel — lots of jobs were interrupted or just lost in general — but it’s my small way of extrapolating my own situation to better understand the situations of others.

    2. Letter Writer*

      In this case, yes, at least one person from my company does need to be on site. For some reason construction seems to be treated as an “essential” activity and must continue despite the state of the world.

  16. twocents*

    Not the most relevant point of the letter, but the requirement to share a hotel room really stood out to me. My employer — who has canceled all travel now — has NEVER asked two unrelated adults to share a hotel room, and I think it’s really weird and inappropriate that this is part of LW’s company’s standard procedure. You should not be required to allow your coworkers into what is essentially your bedroom during your non-work hours.

    1. Letter Writer*

      I agree! I also really benefit from the downtime, and can’t imaging having to stay in a hotel room with a coworker for a week. If it comes up again I will push back against this.

  17. voyager1*

    Honestly push back on sharing a hotel room. That is total crazy in any situation even without COVID.

    I honestly think a hotel room would be safer then a AirBnB, but that is my opinion.

    You mention that this is a rural construction site? Are you going to be outdoors? That would be best if you are around a lot of people. Also probably easier to stay 6ft away in that situation.

    I would try and drive vs fly if that is option. I would not be excited about flying, that to me would be the part that would worry me most.

    1. LJay*

      Honestly I’ve moved the travel I book myself to AirBnBs that are full apartments or guest houses, etc.

      Touch transmission of COVID is not anywhere near the risk that airborne transmission is and touch transmission would be the only thing I’d be afraid of in an AirBnb full apartment etc. And I’ve been in a lot of hotel lobbies and hallways where people are not wearing masks or not wearing masks properly and depending on the franchise lord knows what the cleaning protocols are like anyway. I stayed in a Marriott branded property at the beginning of the pandemic that was terrible – I don’t know if the cleaning staff was understaffed or overworked or what but it was visibly dirty never mind sanitized.

      And honestly I’m renting a 1920s renovated full apartment at the moment with a full kitchen, a sun room, laundry room, and full description of their COVID cleaning protocol for cheaper than I could rent a single tiny room at the local Microtel or half the price of a normal chain hotel room.

      I would absolutely not share a hotel room with a coworker. Pandemic or not, honestly. But definitely in a pandemic.

  18. Annie Moose*

    If you do stay in an AirBnB, couple tips (drawing from my parents’ experience as hosts):

    Rent a full house, apartment, or other situation where there’s no shared space. You probably would check reviews for cleanliness anyway, but of course that’s doubly important right now! AirBnB provides hosts with guidelines on proper cleaning, etc. although you ultimately do have to trust the host is following them.

    Bring your own disinfectant/cleaning supplies. I know the odds of getting covid from surface contact is very low, but this is an easy way to minimize risk if you’re concerned. You can also open windows to air things out. Because you don’t know how long before check-in the host was in there cleaning/flipping the space, you might want to consider arriving a bit late to give anything in the air time to dissipate. Some folks also wear masks when they first arrive, presumably taking them off after having time to clean things up.

    Look for AirBnBs that come with a kitchen (or at least a refrigerator) if you want to do grocery shopping and prepare your own meals. My parents have a full kitchen available and loads of guests use it! Otherwise, you could also message your hosts about local restaurants that do takeout, etc. safely and might get some ideas that you wouldn’t get from Google.

  19. Letter Writer*

    Letter Writer here! Thank you Alison and everyone who commented – interesting discussing and I really appreciate everyone’s insight.

    I ended up having to respond to my company before Alison posted my question. I did end up including a little lie, thinking there would be less push back: I said “due to family circumstances I do not feel comfortable traveling in the pandemic until I get vaccinated”. In a sense, it’s true! Me and my SO (my immediate family) believe in reducing the spread of COVID, including non-essential travel, not just to protect ourselves but others as well. The response I got back was essentially “I understand, it’s a hard choice to make, please do what makes you feel the most safe.” I don’t feel great about lying as it’s sort of an easy way out and I should just be able say “no – this puts me and others at risk”.

    So, it ended up working out for me. However I don’t appreciate that my company put the onus on me to put up this boundary against my superiors, and that they essentially have no protocol for pandemic travel. I definitely feel like declining this “opportunity” has reduced my standing in the company, but to me it’s worth it. Four other people will be making this trip, two at a time (there are three weeks required to be on the job site, and the supervisor plus one rotating person will go out there). I was the only one who declined to go. I think there’s immense pressure to go along with what higher-ups want. I do feel bad that someone else from my work will likely just go in my place and my personal push-back did not solve the basic issue of traveling during the pandemic, though I am relieved I won’t be going.

    A little more context:
    – A lot of people questioned if the travel is necessary. It is required contractually for the project, and must be conducted in person, this type of inspection definitely can’t be done remotely – but I don’t think it’s essential for me and my role on this project. It would be me and my supervisor who wants someone there to follow them around and take notes. Given that much of the country has had to make adjustments in workflow for the pandemic, and my work otherwise has been pretty much WFH since March, it’s surprising to me that zero accommodations have been made in this case… “the show must go on”. It would be largely interior, with multiple trades/meetings and inspections. I have seen nothing to suggest that they’re making any efforts to make the site safe, beyond the obligatory “wear a mask when the boss is watching” which is hardly followed anyway.

    – I am expected to drive locally for work to job sites within 1-2 hours, however I haven’t had to much during COVID purely out of coincidence and the phase my projects are in. Traveling locally, I am still able to drive in my own car, maintain distance, wear masks, come home to my own bed at night, and avoid high-risk locations. This project is one of the only out-of-state projects in my office.

    – In general, my work has had a fairly decent response in general to the pandemic, though I notice that lately that people are much more relaxed about it, taking their mask off, not distancing, etc. A few people in the office got COVID, but since they were fairly mild cases I think it’s contributed to the assumption that COVID isn’t that big of a deal. They’re also big on “in person collaboration” as if it’s the holy grail of productivity.

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