Employers tell workers: No more travel

Employers tell workers: No more travel

San Antonio businesses are scrapping international travel plans and, in some cases, clamping down on trips within the U.S. as the coronavirus outbreak grows.

The travel restrictions are among a slew of new rules aimed at keeping the virus out of the workplace.

Some of the rules center on workers who feel ill. Companies don’t want their employees heroically showing up at the office when they’re under the weather. Working from home is OK.

“Employees who feel sick are encouraged to stay home, and either work from there or take a sick day,” Frost Bank spokesman Bill Day said.

At some companies, managers have decreed that a bottle of hand sanitizer be placed at each employee’s desk. Other firms are installing sanitizer stations throughout the workplace.

As of Friday, health authorities have reported more than 280 coronaviris cases in the U.S and 100,000 globally.

On ExpressNews.com: At some San Antonio companies, threat of coronavirus means no hugging or handshakes.

As the epidemic expands, companies that have foreign operations or foreign customers are tightening restrictions on travel.

Two weeks ago, many firms limited business travel to outbreak hotspots: China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Italy. Now, they have ended all international travel for the near future.

San Antonio’s second larger private employer, insurer and financial services company USAA, isn’t just banning international travel. It’s asking all employees returning from overseas trips — for business or pleasure — to work from home for 14 days, spokesman Christian Bove said.

The company is recommending that employees avoid personal international travel. USAA, which employs 19,000 in San Antonio, is also barring workers from participating in external conferences and training events.

The insurer’s new policies, and those of other companies here and across the country, are dealing a blow to airlines and the hospitality industry. Some airplanes are nearly empty, hurting airlines’ finances and leading them to cut flight schedules.

Canceled conventions and empty hotel rooms threaten to dent the economies of destination cities across the globe, including San Antonio.

The broader impact of the restrictions could get worse.

Bove said USAA is “carefully evaluating and canceling some large company-sponsored events.” He didn’t offer details.

San Antonio grocer H-E-B, the city’s biggest private employer, is restricting international travel as well as barring employees from traveling domestically on business, according to spokeswoman Dya Campos.

“In addition to restricting travel for our partners, we are using technology to conduct meetings with our vendors and have restricted in-person meetings and travel from our vendors,” she said.

Toyota Motors Corp., which operates a truck plant in San Antonio, is also limiting travel for its executive staff.

“At this time, Toyota is currently restricting all travel outside North America to only that which is business-critical,” said Kelly McNeff, a spokeswoman for the Japanese automaker. “The same is true for our Japanese staff. They are only traveling outside Japan for business-critical purposes.”

Frost Bank also has banned both domestic and international trips, except those within Texas.

“Because all of our banking operations are inside Texas, business travel outside the state falls into the ‘less necessary’ category,” Day said.

Management is also asking employees to cancel plans to attend industry conferences.

Another large San Antonio employer, pipeline operator NuStar Energy, is discouraging its employees from taking international business trips, but has not banned them, spokesman Chris Cho said.

It’s not only big companies that have put the brakes on travel — small and midsize businesses are doing it, too, said Brian Sumers, senior aviation business editor at travel website Skift.

“Employers do not want to send their workers on business trips and have those workers get sick,” he said. “Even if they don’t get sick, there are potential complications. Employees who go somewhere where there is a coronavirus outbreak might be subject to a quarantine upon their return, for example.”

Companies also have to worry about the virus hurting the economy and cutting into the bottom line.

“With markets cratering, businesses aren’t sure what the next 12 months will bring,” Sumers said. “Business travel is expensive, and during recessions, companies cut back on it. In most cases, business travel is a discretionary cost.”

Business travel columnist Joe Brancatelli, who runs the business travel website JoeSentMe, said the travel restrictions may be a bad sign for the entire economy.

“Business travel is the leading indicator of a downturn and a trailing indicator of a recovery,” he said. “So when business travel begins to slump, bad things are ahead for the economy at large.”

Randy Diamond covers aviation, energy and manufacturing in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read his stories and more local coverage on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | randy.diamond@express-news.net

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