Coronavirus - Information for International Business Travellers

Coronavirus and international business travel

Coronavirus has had a severe effect on practically every part of the economy here in Germany and around the wider world. Locally, many business’ have had to shut down, hopefully temporarily but, unfortunately in many cases, permanently. Internationally, the outlook is not a great deal better, with a huge number of multinational corporations struggling to cope with the downturn in trade. The effective shut down of the international business travel scene over the past few months left those who usually commute between nations regularly for work in limbo, with many understandably unwilling to travel due to the health risks and with many more unsure if they are even allowed in to the country.

The past few weeks, however, have started to provide a glimmer of light at the end of this very long tunnel. Local business’ are starting to reopen, restaurants and bars are allowing people to enter again and governments are beginning to lessen restrictions on entering and exiting their countries. We take an updated look at the latest rules regarding travel and the options available to the international business traveller, should they feel this crisis has put their employment in jeopardy.

International business traveller

The term ‘international business traveller’ is certainly broad but, in the context of this article, we are using this term to relate to anyone who routinely travels to other countries for work. The term business traveller conjures up images of suited professionals, who travel on a fly in/out basis to attend meetings, sales pitches and events but the term is equally applicable to those in a variety of industries where travel forms the basis of their job. Those in the travel industry, for example, such pilots and flight attendants are very much effected, as are people in who work in the movement of freight, such as long-distance lorry drivers. Basically, if you travel internationally for a living, this affects you.

What are the current rules and situation?

Europe, and the wider world, is slowly starting to open its doors to the international traveller again. Up until recently,all travel which considered non-essential was restricted, with all German, EU and Schengen visitors entering the country required to submit to 14 days of quarantine. These rules are now being relaxed and, as of the 15th June, the travel warning will be removed for countries within the Schengen area. Technically, this relaxation also applies to those travelling to the United Kingdom, though a recent law in the UK means that anyone travelling there from any other country will be required to isolate themselves for a period of 14 days.

This is therefore a huge step in the right direction for the European business traveller. From the 15th of June, the international business traveller will not need a valid reason to enter the Schengen countries and can go about their business-related travel activities as they please. They are, of course, still required to follow the local health rules and may find that many of the business’ at their destination remain closed.

The travel warning for the rest of the world remains in place until at least the 31st August, with international business travellers from over 160 countriesoutside of the Schengen area still affected by travel restrictions. It is therefore important to reiterate that, though tourism-based travel is effectively forbidden, an international business traveller may still have options. Business travellers from outside the Schengen area, on the proviso that they are travelling into the country on essential business and that they are currently displaying no symptoms of the Coronavirus, are able to enter the country.

Whilst this exception is a welcome possibility, realistically and logistically, business travel remains hugely difficult. Airlines have seen most of their fleet grounded, although many are beginning to reintroduce services, although at a far reduced rate. International train and bus services have also been reduced. 

Additionally, should the business traveller make it into Germany from one of the so called “Third countries”, they are faced with further regulatory complications. They must, for example, justify their presence in the country, providing and carrying official written confirmation from their company(examples provided by the BMI include work contracts, project confirmations and work permits) of the business they intent to engage in. Should you be arriving from China, Italy, South Korea, Japan or Iran, you will be provided an identity sheet to fill in, providing contact details and a declaration that you have not shown, or had contact with, anyone displaying symptoms of Coronavirus.

The above is, of course, predicated on the willingness to travel but it is fair to say that many business travelers are not interested in travelling and either catching or possibly spreading the infection.

Possible Ramifications?

As has been the case for many business’ during this period, one of the main ramifications to those who travel for business is the effect it will have on their employment. Though things are beginning to look a little brighter for European travellers, the damage caused by the effects of the Coronavirus, and the subsequent travel ban, have been catastrophic for the majority of economies. The economy of the United Kingdom, for example, shrunk by a staggering 20% in the month of April. The knock-on effect for business’ has been, and likely still will be, devastating.

Many business’ have already reduced the hours of those who normally travel for work, with some having their working week reduced to zero hours. The good news is that most governments have implemented some form of social program, to attempt to ensure that companies retain their employees until the point where the crisis has subsided, and they can return to full time work. In the UK for example, employers have the option to place their employees on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (commonly known as placing employees in furlough) whilst in Germany, workers are covered by extensions to the Kurzarbeitergeld system. The bad news is that these short-term measures have been in place for a few months now and governments are already beginning to talk about scaling down the coverage offered.

It is fair to say that, with the government financial being reduced and/or removed depending on circumstance, employers may be forced to make decisions about the long term viability of their staffing, especially for those employed in the international business traveller sector. This of course means both employers and employees have difficult questions to answer.Employees will likely have many questions for their employers. Will my company retain my position during this period? Can they move me to another position? What are my rights relating to a possible termination? As a business owner, what are my legal options relating to those in my employ? Does requesting a staff member travel during the current crisis constitute an unsafe working environment? How can I react whilst also safeguarding the future of my company?

It is possible that the worst has come to the worst and the fallout of the Coronavirus crisis has already claimed your position or put your company in dire financial straits. We, of course hope that is not the case but, if it has, it is important to be aware of the options available to you.

What are my options?

Such is the scope of the issue at hand, it is almost impossible to provide specifics relating to your particular position in any one article. The options available and right way to proceed will depend on a huge variety of factors including your industry, location, contract type and circumstance. With this in mind, it is reasonable to seek professional advice, for a clear understanding of the situation from an employment law perspective and the options available to you.

We at ZELLER & SEYFERTare not only experienced, professional and highly successful employment attorneys, we have also built a substantial and far-reaching professional network of attorneys around the world, who can advise specifically on legal options relating to employment law in your country. In co-ordination with these attorneys, we can advise on specifics and best practises and, should you feel that your rights in Germany or further afield have been encroached, we will litigate passionately on your behalf.

Our Employment Law expert Atty Dr. Christian Zelleris ready for your contact and is happy to offer a completely free 10 minute “Corona consultation”, to discuss your personal circumstances. He can be contacted by telephone on +49 (0) 30-40 36 785-80 or by email at mail@zellerseyfert.com.

Since the rules governing the admittance of business travellers into the country will likely be updated on a rolling basis over the next period, we will be updating this article and our Litigation Blog regularly, to keep you to date with the very latest changes. Be sure to bookmark this page and our blog for the very latest information on this topic.

**Please note that this article was updated on the 17th June, to reflect further changes to travel rules**

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