Duty of care for business travel
If your employees are traveling for business, it’s your legal and ethical responsibility to have a plan in place to care for them. A thorough plan evaluates foreseeable and unforeseeable risks to avoid injury to employees and legal ramifications for the company. 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 are dedicated 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,
- And many more.
To an employer, it means a demonstration of 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 sent.
To the corporate traveler, this means landing in a strange city and still feeling confident that the company has their back.
There is a lot that can potentially 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 travelers face include:
- Missing a flight
- Misplacing a passport or another important document
- Becoming ill 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 their behalf. A 2019 study of 7,850 frequent travelers found that 31% of travelers considered their own safety as 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 locked themselves in the supply closet. But what’s the plan for when an employee needs immediate help, and they’re 10,000 miles away?
As companies expand their professional ties across the globe, corporate travelers are constantly exposed to new risks. Even the most veteran traveler needs support when confronted with a high-risk situation, such as dangerous illness or political unrest.
Organizations worldwide are increasingly being held accountable by their governments and employees to conduct business prudently by addressing the many risks in business travel.
In the US, a duty of care program has become a legal requirement for all organizations of any size. As a result, the business sector has seen a dramatic rise in negligence lawsuits. More and more, employees are being informed of their rights and will file against their employers if they feel the security-related incident was not handled appropriately.
For these reasons, providing 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 future 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 safety procedures to follow. They’re also legally required to have a fall-back plan to be implemented should risk become reality.
Corporate liability extends to omissions as well as negligence. Travelers should know the recommended vaccines before travel, 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 behavior and mannerisms as guests in that country
Training and briefings encourage employee compliance with the travel risk assessment policy for their safety and those around them. Your responsibility doesn’t end at identifying risk and documenting a plan of action, you must also make sure that your travelers are practically involved. When your employees understand that compliance is mandatory, they will respect the policy and you for making their wellbeing a requirement.
Companies who ignore duty of care as a necessity are ultimately putting themselves at risk. Those who don’t often still struggle to withstand the morphing 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 or how to conduct a thorough travel risk assessment. An even more common cause of 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 traveling for business. A company's duty of care will contain a statement of it's commitment to care for it's employees and how far that extends. Within this, there will be a variety of processes and tactics to uphold this commitment: travel risk management is one of the actual strategies. The risk management process is the means by which the company will uphold its "duty of care". In other words, you fulfill your duty of care through implementing 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 for any possible risks.
It comes as 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 convoluted but significant topic.
1. Assess your current travel program
- Involve relevant stakeholders and discuss areas for improvement. Travelers offer first-hand experience in dealing with high-risk situations, and travel managers will lend insight into the logistics involved.
- Discuss what’s gone wrong in the past, research global risk trends, and agree on 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, recommend strategic improvements to duty of care policies, and offer 24/7 support. This is vital as travelers 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 traveling to high-risk destinations.
- Automate travel alerts and incorporate them into the travel itinerary. Your TMCwill likely provide live updates to travelers to inform them of potential risk developments.
- Ensure employee contact information and health records are easily available and current.
3. Domestic vs international travel
- Plan for domestic risk factors as well as those overseas. An accident can befall your employee while commuting to a meeting across town, so be sure you’re making safety provisions for your people 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 helping to customize security measures, employees will appreciate being involved in the decision-making process. They’ll gladly comply 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 traveler’s location for extraction if needed.
- Gadgets and equipment: If traveling to a high-risk area for pick-pocketing, for example, you may recommend to the traveler to use a money belt and book a hotel with a safe in the room to leave their valuables.