Duty of care for business travel
If your employees are travelling for business, it’s your legal and ethical responsibility to have a plan in place to make sure they’re well taken care of. A thorough plan evaluates foreseeable and unforeseeable risks to avoid legal ramifications for the company due to injury. This plan is known as the duty of care.
What is ‘duty of care’?
Duty of care is a corporate policy and legal requirement ensuring companies commit to the physical and emotional safety and wellbeing of their employees. This covers a wide area of risks, with the most common ones being:
- Health and safety
- Food and drinks provided by the organization
- Fire safety
- Discrimination and bullying
To an employer, it means demonstrating concern for your employees’ safety by planning and taking every precaution to mitigate risk to them and others.
Business travel and duty of care
The moral and legal obligations of a company to provide duty of care extend further than the office. When an employee travels for business, this duty of care must continue to protect the employee, no matter where they’re going.
To the corporate traveller, this means landing in an unknown city but feeling that the company has their back.
There is a lot that can go wrong when an employee is sent on a business trip – and the company needs to be prepared for whatever happens. Some common issues that corporate travellers face include:
- Missing a flight
- Misplacing a passport or other important document
- Getting sick while abroad
- Accidents requiring medical attention
Why is duty of care important?
It’s important to show employees that they are supported by the company when travelling on its behalf. A 2019 study of 7,850 frequent travelers found that 31% of travellers considered their safety the first priority and 54% believed that this sentiment wasn’t shared by their company.
Most offices already have some form of duty of care procedures in place. This means employees know where to gather in the event of a fire, or who to call if they’ve locked themselves in the supply closet. But what’s the plan for when an employee needs immediate help, and they’re 10,000 kilometres away from home?
As companies expand their professional networks across the globe, corporate travellers are exposed to new risks. Even the most veteran traveller needs support when they’re in a high-risk situation, such as a dangerous sudden illness or political unrest.
Organizations worldwide are increasingly being held accountable by their governments and employees to conduct business carefully by addressing the many risks in business travel.
In Canada, duty of care (or due diligence) is a legal requirement for all organizations, regardless of size. The rights of employees when it comes to workplace safety are very well enshrined in the Canada labour code. So much so, that a strong workplace safety culture has emerged across the country. Employees are well aware of their rights and will file against their employers if they feel that a safety incident was not handled appropriately.
For these reasons, providing a proper duty of care is becoming a higher priority for companies. Having documented proof that the company provides safety procedures, sufficient resources, and correct training is the best safeguard they have against potential litigation.
Strategic planning and practical prevention
Prevention, response, and strategy are key aspects of every employer’s obligation to uphold the law and safeguard their team.
Before authorizing a trip, companies are expected to research and evaluate the risk level by conducting a risk assessment for business travel and to educate employees on the safety procedures to follow. They’re also legally required to have a fall-back plan should risk become reality.
Corporate liability extends to omissions as well as negligence. Travellers should know the recommended vaccines before travelling, how and where to access medical treatment, and evacuation contingencies. It’s also recommended that they be briefed on cultural and political norms before going to new destinations. This helps inform their behaviour and mannerisms as guests in that country.
Training and briefings encourage employees to comply with the travel risk assessment policy for their safety and those around them. Your responsibility doesn’t end at identifying risk and sending employees a pdf about what to do if things go south, you must also make sure that your travellers are practically involved.
When your employees understand that compliance is mandatory, they will respect the policy–and you–for making their wellbeing mandatory.
Companies who ignore duty of care are ultimately putting themselves at risk. Even the most diligent companies often still struggle to withstand the ever-changing threats accompanying travel today.
This is largely due to a lack of resources or information available on how to write a comprehensive duty of care policy with regards to travel or how to conduct a thorough travel risk assessment. An even more common oversight is that many companies don’t know the difference between the two.
Duty of care vs travel risk management
Within the context of travel, duty of care is the legal obligation to research, plan, and implement a strategy to mitigate the risks involved for employees travelling for business.
A company's duty of care will contain a statement of its commitment to caring for its employees and how far that extends. Within this, there will be a variety of processes and practices to uphold this commitment. By contrast, travel risk management is an in-depth strategy. The risk management process is the means by which the company upholds its "duty of care". In other words, you fulfill your duty of care through implementing clear travel risk management procedures.
You’ll need to know how to perform a travel risk assessment, but devising a duty of care plan first will dictate the areas to focus on when carrying out the assessment. A duty of care policy should research, document, warn, and train about any possible risks.
It’s no surprise that companies struggle to incorporate these practices into working travel management programs. Lawmakers are notoriously ambiguous when defining these terms for practical implementation.
Rather than being discouraged by this, see it as an opportunity to write a duty of care policy that’s in line with your company’s needs and values.
How to write a duty of care policy for travel
Given that adequate risk management is difficult to quantify or define, legislators strain to conceptualize duty of care clearly. So we want to offer some guidance on a complex, but significant, topic.
1. Assess your current travel program
- Involve relevant stakeholders and discuss areas for improvement. Travellers have first-hand experience in dealing with high-risk situations, and travel managers can lend insight into the logistics involved.
- Discuss what’s gone wrong in the past, research global risk trends, and agree on the up-to-date security policies to follow.
- Share the burden with a travel management company (TMC). TMC expertise will help you to meet your duty of care requirements by providing advice and tools for travel safety.
- B2B travel companies are ideal as they understand corporate needs, provide live data and security reports, and can recommend areas where improvements to duty of care policies are needed, and offer 24/7 support. This is vital. Travellers need to be able to contact a reliable entity at any time for assistance of any magnitude.
2. Establish a pre-travel process
- Compile pre-trip risk assessment reports that detail globally consolidated data, particularly when travelling to high-risk destinations.
- Automate travel alerts and incorporate them into the travel itinerary. Your TMC will likely provide live updates and alerts to travellers to inform them of potential risk developments.
- Ensure employee contact information and health records are easily available and up-to-date.
3. Domestic vs international travel
- Plan for domestic risk factors as well as those overseas. An accident can happen while commuting to a meeting across town, so be sure you’re making safety provisions for your employees at home as well as the jet-setters.
4. Have a plan B and C
- Incorporate contingencies into your general travel policy, as well as into the plan for specific trips. Employees should know that there is a backup plan for emergencies that is reliable and up-to-date.
- Most importantly, this plan should contain information on where the nearest embassy or evacuation point is for foreign nationals.
Duty of care tips and tools
- Employee engagement: Besides giving input on security measures, employees will appreciate being involved in the decision-making process around safety. They’ll gladly participate because, at the end of the day, it’s their safety you’re talking about.
- Technology for security: Automated services provided by TMCs and travel management software have real-time tracking features to pin-point a traveller’s location for extraction if needed.
- Gadgets and equipment: If traveling to a high-risk area for pick-pocketing, for example, you may recommend that the traveler use a money belt and book a hotel with a safe in the room where they can leave their valuables.