William J. Milani, Member of the Firm in the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice, in the firm’s New York office, was quoted in Law360 Employment Authority, in “Employers Face New Risks as Business Travel Returns,” by Vin Gurrieri. (Read the full version – subscription required.)

Following is an excerpt:

Even after the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say business travel likely won't return to normal.

By the time the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic in March 2020, businesses were already cutting back or eliminating nonessential work-related travel and focusing on building a remote work infrastructure to keep business operations afloat amid widespread lockdowns. 

A year later, management-side lawyers say the pre-pandemic environment in which business trips were automatically approved with little hesitation will likely never return, and that "new normal" means a new set of potential legal and logistical challenges for employers. …

Struggle to Maintain a Personal Touch

If businesses eschew travel in favor of virtual meetings and telework in the years ahead, they'll realize certain benefits, chiefly lower costs and fewer safety risks. But lawyers say those advantages come with a downside — a weakened ability to build sturdy relationships between colleagues and with clients through face time. …

William Milani, head of Epstein Becker Green's international employment law group and vice chair of the firm's board of directors, similarly said there was an increasing recognition as the pandemic wore on that certain aspects of in-person gatherings — even things as simple as eye contact or interpersonal gestures — can't be necessarily replicated through a computer screen. 

For employers, that'll mean engaging in a new type of balancing act that wasn't typically needed before the pandemic: weighing the worth of an in-person event against the practicality of people being able to get their work done virtually. 

"I know from my own perspective I do a fair amount [of work] with multinational clients, and I've always found over the years that those travels, those in-person meetings, those speeches are so important in developing relationships," Milani said. "From my standpoint, I think those things will continue to be valuable, but I think there will be heightened scrutiny around whether a particular trip or trips really … requires you to be there in person." …

Who Gets to Travel? 

If employers become more reluctant in signing off on trips, be it for safety reasons, costs or a combination of other factors, the biggest risk they may face from a legal perspective is an increase in discrimination claims. …

Allowing business travel or remote work is one area in which Milani said employers will have to "take care to ensure that they are treating similarly situated employees" the same way and make certain they are using uniform criteria when they assess whether particular business trips are worth approving, instead of making decisions on an ad hoc basis. 

"If you are going to permit certain of your employees to engage in business travel, on what objective basis are you making decisions as to who may or may not do so?" Milani said, noting that the same analysis would apply regarding who gets to telework. "I think it's important as employers consider these things that they do spend some time focusing on what the objective business reasons for the decisions that they're making are."

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