In today’s world, most employers accept that they must provide a safe, healthy, and secure environment for their employees in the permanent workplace. Unfortunately, many firms do not apply this same standard to employees when they travel on business. Perhaps they are ignorant of potential threats. Perhaps they feel that they cannot control the environment outside the workplace, and therefore are not liable for anything that happens there. Maybe they think that its “just not an issue.” Whatever the reason, many firms simply do not do embrace their duty of care role for traveling employees to the extent they do for employees working at home base. Yet, duty of care is as important for employees traveling on assignment as it is for employees operating within the firm’s offices.

Even when firms prepare their employees for the potential problems they may encounter while traveling, they often focus on the wrong ones. Some employers focus more on conspicuous threats such as violent crime, terrorism, and kidnapping while ignoring more mundane concerns. Others do just the opposite, focusing on everyday risks such as sickness, car accidents, and inclement weather while ignoring other dangers. Some firms focus exclusively on compliance, seeing their role primarily as minimizing the company’s legal liability. This approach is narrow rather than holistic, reactive rather than proactive. It also simply is not enough. This is why it is important for employers to seek travel risk experts to help them develop holistic travel risk strategies. Embracing duty of care for traveling employees is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do and there are many reasons why.

Firstly, it is well understood by many risk managers that preventing an incident is far less costly than dealing with its aftermath. Ensuring that employees are safe and secure in their business activities abroad improves employee morale, increases retention, and gives managers and employees the confidence to pursue business opportunities outside of their geographic region. Also, companies who take their duty of care obligations seriously are better able to protect themselves from the reputational damage that can arise from unfortunate events. After all, there are few things worse for a firm’s brand name than to be seen as a negligent and callous employer.

Secondly, by fully living up to their duty of care obligations, employers can reap certain unintended benefits. For example, when employees are given proper pre-travel training and education they are likely to be more confident, less distracted, and better able to serve their firm while on trip. They are also better able to avoid potential delays and deal with them quickly when they do occur. Additionally, firms that properly monitor, advise, and assist their employees on travel assignments may be able to receive discounts on their insurance policies.

Finally, firms that embrace their duty of care obligations for traveling employees are less likely to suffer from litigation that can arise from poor preparation. This blog will cover specific legal issues in more depth in a later article. However, it is sufficient to say that litigation arising from travel incidents can be expensive, complex, and involve multiple jurisdictions.

To conclude, preventing travel incidents through proper travel risk management is far less costly and more beneficial than dealing with incidents after they occur. By embracing duty of care, firms can increase employee morale, honor their corporate social responsibilities, make business trips more fruitful, while at the same time avoid reputational damage and costly litigation.

Sources and Further reading:

  • Duty of Care of Employers for Protecting International Assignees, Their Dependence, and International Business Travelers, 2009. By Dr. Lizbeth Claus.
  • Duty of care and travel risk management global benchmarking study, 2011. By Dr Lizbeth Claus.