Amazon halts all employee travel, Google adds new restrictions due to coronavirus

In an unexpected move, both Amazon and Google announced new restrictions Friday on employee travel due to concerns over the coronavirus and COVID-19, the illness the virus causes.

Amazon has asked all of its 798,000 employees to stop all nonessential travel, both domestic and internationally, immediately. This is after Amazon already restricted employee travel to China earlier this month.

And The New York Times reported on Friday that Amazon employees on its worldwide operations team, which oversees technology and logistics, were told not to plan any meetings requiring travel until at least April, when the company hoped to have a better sense of the outbreak's impact.

The cancellations are due to fear of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The CDC has now 60 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US, including 45 cases among repatriated individuals. The latest case in the US is an individual in northern California and the cause is of unknown origins. So far, there have been 2,867 deaths from coronavirus around the world, and there are 83,861 cases globally. Hospitals in the US and the UK are preparing for a coronavirus outbreak.

SEE: Coronavirus having major effect on tech industry beyond supply chain delays (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Google expanding employee travel restrictions

Google has expanded its employee travel restrictions, now adding South Korea and Japan to the list of areas that already included China, Iran and two Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto. This occurred after a Google employee tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the company.

"We can confirm that one employee from our Zurich office has been diagnosed with the coronavirus," a Google spokesperson said in a statement. "They were in the Zurich office for a limited time, before they had any symptoms. We have taken -- and will continue to take - all necessary precautionary measures, following the advice of public health officials, as we prioritize everyone's health and safety."

Google also announced that it is canceling its Google News Initiative Summit because of  concerns over the coronavirus. The conference had been scheduled for late April in Sunnyvale, Calif.

"We regret that we have to cancel our global Google News Initiative summit but the health and well-being of our guests is our No. 1 priority," Richard Gingras, vice president of news at Google, said in a statement.

Google has not yet announced any plans to cancel its own annual developer conference, Google I/O, scheduled for May 12-14 in Mountain View, Calif.

SEE: Working remotely: A professional's guide to the essential tools (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

How companies can handle changing travel plans amid an outbreak

The quick-changing travel plans amid an outbreak like COVID-19 can make it difficult for companies to juggle employee travel plans and schedules.

In early February, before tech conferences began being canceled, and before companies started pulling out of events, companies were already limiting employee travel to China. At that time, Martin Ferguson, vice president of public affairs at American Express Global Business Travel, told TechRepublic's Veronica Combs that he was seeing an increase in clients stopping all nonessential business travel to, from and within Wuhan and mainland China as well as areas surrounding mainland China. Some companies were also asking employees to work from home for two weeks after traveling to China as a precaution.

With uncertainty affecting many of the decisions being made right now, companies need to keep employee travel plans flexible. For companies that are still allowing travel, request that employees book airline fares that can be canceled or rebooked without penalty, and hotel rooms that can be canceled without penalty. This way, if a conference or event is canceled, the company will not incur additional costs as a result of the employee canceling their trip.

Also, keep schedules flexible. For any upcoming conferences that have yet to be booked, wait. Watch the website for the conference daily to see if the main sponsors are still attending, and if any news is released about the event. Ask employees to wait as long as possible before booking airfare and hotel.

SEE: Policy pack: Guidelines for remote workers (TechRepublic Premium)

Additional information to share with employees regarding travel and the coronavirus

As previously reported in TechRepublic, Emma Follansbee, an associate at The National Law Review, recommended what employers should do, and what they should avoid, when discussing travel and the coronavirus with employees:

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