As a business executive, you have a responsibility to do what’s best for both your company and its employees. This responsibility as it relates to business travel is captured in your corporate duty of care.
What exactly is a duty of care? What does it mean for your travelers? And how does it crossover with travel risk assessment and management? Read on to learn the answers to these questions, as well as to learn about taking a common sense approach to travel duty of care.
What is Duty of Care?
In simplest terms, duty of care is the obligation a company owes to individuals (and their families) while employees are traveling for business. This obligation relates to an employee’s safety, security and overall wellbeing when working away from home or the office, whether domestically or internationally. Duty of care applies to both things an employer chooses to do (acts) as well as things an employer chooses not to do (omissions).
What Could Go Wrong?
Business travelers are at risk from threats large and small, obvious and subtle. These threats fall into roughly 5 categories:
- Health: Disease, infection, heart attack, stroke and other health incidents are even more dangerous to travelers because they are away from the local health care system and facilities they know, as well as away from family and their primary care physician who best know their health profiles. Even stress and fatigue can be threats to the health of business travelers.
- Accidents: Car collisions, plane crashes and other accidents are always a possibility when your travelers hit the road.
- Targeting: Business travelers often stand out from the local population, especially when visiting foreign countries. This can make them targets for abuse, kidnapping and other threats. There’s also the limited possibility that your business travelers could be present during a terrorist attack.
- Nature: Hurricanes, tsunamis, blizzards, thunderstorms, tornadoes and other natural disasters can also pose a threat to your travelers depending on their locations.
- Unfamiliarity: Should anything related to one of the 4 above categories occur to one of your travelers, those issues are often compounded by unfamiliar settings. Your business travelers may find themselves in places where they don’t know the roads, the geography, the local health risks, the local medical system, or even the local language.
Travel Risk Mitigation and Management: Turning Duty of Care Into Action
Many companies make the mistake of using duty of care and risk management as synonyms. In reality, these two terms have related but different definitions.
Duty of care, as mentioned, is the obligation a company owes to the safety, security and wellbeing of its employees while they travel for work. Risk management is the collection of actions a company takes to do two things:
- Promote corporate travel safety for business travelers
- Protect the company from travel related risk and liability
The threats to employees are outlined above, but companies also face threats related to business travel. When your employees leave for business trips, you are suddenly exposed to risks to your reputation, risks to your equipment, risks to your data, financial risks, legal risks, liability risks and more.
Of course, you want to protect your employees at all costs. But your duty of care risk management plan developed in response to your obligations should also protect your business and brand.
What is a Company’s Legal Obligation?
Duty of care in the United States is legally murky. Workers compensation insurance typically covers an employee while he or she is on the job. But workers compensation is often nullified when an employee travels a certain distance away from the company’s primary place of business.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration does offer regulations that require businesses to create safe working environments. But duty of care legality gets even murkier when your employees travel abroad. Civil cases involving the deaths of American workers traveling abroad have gone both ways in recent years — some finding the employer at fault (and liable for damages) and others not.
There’s likely to be federal duty of care legislation in the future. The United Kingdom, for example, has a Manslaughter Act that holds companies and senior officers responsible for duty of care violations that lead to the injury or death of employees traveling abroad. Until the United States has similarly clear statutes, it’s best for American companies to be overly cautious and to go above in beyond in duty of care obligations — primarily to best serve employees, but also to prevent the threat of liability.
Protecting Your Travelers, Limiting Your Liability
Your duty of care obligation should be addressed specifically in your risk management plan and travel policy. Where should you begin in creating this plan and policy? Follow these 6 steps:
- Assign Responsibility: Who is in charge of your duty of care travel policy and risk management plan? It’s best to get input from a wide range of departments, including legal, HR, security, procurement and others. Make sure that one of these departments, and ideally a specific executive, is ultimately responsible for execution.
- Determine Risks: Listed above, you’ll find a number of risks to both employee and employer. Identify the risks related to your business.
- Assess Exposure: What type of exposure do your company’s specific risks create? For each business-travel related risk, be comprehensive in identifying the corresponding consequences and exposure for your brand.
- Mitigate or Manage Risk: For the risks, consequences and exposure your business faces due to travel, design tools for mitigating or managing each.
- Share: Your travelers must know about the risks they face, as well as the responsibilities they hold while traveling. Much of your mitigation and management of risk will include educating your traveling team members and equipping them with information and resources they can uses when facing risks during business travel.
- Reassess: Your risk management and duty of care plans should constantly evolve to meet the needs of your company and the demands of world travel at any given moment.
Typical gaps in a risk management and duty of care plan include:
- Treating executives and senior team members differently than mid- and entry-level employees
- Failing to educate employees on destination-specific risk management, such as getting appropriate vaccines for visiting different countries
- A lack of testing of plans for crisis management
This list includes common gaps, but it’s certainly not comprehensive. Be thorough in considering your risk management and duty of care plans so that you’re doing your best to keep your travelers safe.
Let JTB Help With Duty of Care and Risk Management
At JTB Business Travel, we support a wide range of companies that send their employees on the road for work. As a business travel agency, we provide comprehensive services that help you save money while maximizing the return you enjoy for your investment in corporate travel.
A big part of maximizing that return is having the right duty of care travel policy and risk management plan in place. If you’re struggling with your approach to duty of care or anything related to keeping your travelers safe while protecting your business, lean on our knowledge, experience and expertise.
Contact us today for help in creating and implementing a common sense-driven travel policy and risk management plan.