Business Travel and Duty of Care
Business travel is an integral part of the corporate landscape today. Whether or not safety is the first thing on your mind as you catch a plane to head to a conference or a meeting to negotiate a new contract, it has undoubtedly come up among the executives responsible for managing travel at your company. Employers have a duty of care to their employees— this means they have an obligation to keep you safe while you are on the road on their behalf. The actions a company takes to reduce the potential for harm to their employees are known collectively as travel risk management. While it isn’t possible to completely eliminate risk from travel, it is possible to reduce the likelihood that something bad will happen to you while you’re away from home and to ensure that you have support in troubleshooting difficulties that do arise.
Duty of care is likely to play a significant role in how your company drafts and enforces its travel policy, however lenient or strict that policy is. Grasping the reasoning behind these policy decisions can help you understand company requirements regarding business travel and work with your employers for your own benefit.
The Spectrum of Duty of Care: The Whys Behind Your Company’s Policy
Although the concept of duty of care applies to all companies, what it means in terms of a business travel safety policy can vary widely. That’s because not all business travel carries the same risks. Ideally, the requirements your company puts in place and the support it provides will be tailored to any difficulties you would be likely to encounter on the road.
High-profile catastrophes in recent years, such as terrorist attacks and natural disasters, have woken more companies up to the need to have a travel risk management program in place to protect their employees. The reality is, however, that worst-case scenarios may not be where most companies need to put their focus. In fact, “the three issues that business travelers are most likely to encounter are petty crime and theft, medical and health situations, and bad weather” as noted in a 2017 New York Times article. However, if your business travel takes you to high-risk countries, the likelihood of you encountering a more exotic problem could rise dramatically. This is why duty of care travel management can never be a one-size-fits-all proposition. What should you, as a business traveler, expect from your company?
The Bare Minimum: Where Are You Going to Be?
At one end of the spectrum are companies that do very little by way of travel risk management. They may have a low volume of business travel or travel that is mostly conducted domestically. Especially for small or medium-sized businesses in this position, their written travel policy is likely to be minimal, if not nonexistent. However, even these companies need one critical piece information from you in order to look out for your well-being—where you are supposed to be at what time. This includes, at a minimum, your airline reservations and hotel booking information.
Surprisingly, even for larger companies that use dedicated travel management companies or corporate booking tools to arrange their business travel, gathering such information isn’t always a straightforward proposition. A recent survey by the Expedia Affiliate Network revealed that 68 percent of business travelers booked at least half of their travel outside of approved tools. Duty of care is a moral and legal obligation that’s diminished in effectiveness by booking outside of approved tools. Without knowledge of your itinerary or location, your company is unable to help or support you if an emergency occurs while you’re traveling.
To be sure that your company has your back when you’re out of town, make sure you understand who is supposed to know your travel information before you depart and confirm that they have it. What happens if your itinerary changes while you’re in transit—for example, if your flight is canceled or your hotel is overbooked and you have to change accommodations? In that case, it’s also a good idea to touch base so your travel manager, direct superior, or whoever is responsible for keeping track of your whereabouts is in the know and can help you troubleshoot, if necessary.
Shaping Policy to Support Safety
At the next level, even companies that don’t have the internal resources to take a more active role in duty of care business travel management can influence travel behavior in ways that promote safety. For instance, if you’re taking a long-haul flight or a red-eye to get to your destination, does company policy allow you to book business class so you can arrive rested or ready to work? If not, does it allow for you to take a taxi or car service to your destination rather than immediately getting behind the wheel of a rental car?
This type of duty of care oversight can be general or more detailed, depending on the needs of your company. Scott McBride, vice president for loss prevention at American Eagle, cited an example of his company’s travel policy regarding foreign ground transportation: “With us, you’re not permitted to rent a car if you can’t read the language.” While many travel policies are focused on keeping business travel within reasonable budget limits, companies have learned to recognize that cheapest is not always best for employee welfare.
Forewarned is Forearmed: Proactive Monitoring and Training
Knowing what you’re getting into is an important part of minimizing risk. Companies with a more active travel risk management policy may take a number of steps to monitor the potential risk of an upcoming business trip, such as checking current State Department travel advisories and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information on recommended vaccines for international travel destinations. For areas prone to extreme weather events, in-house travel managers might also monitor the forecast leading up to a proposed trip. After all, it’s probably better to postpone a trip than to have your sales team stranded in Orlando during a hurricane.
Training can also play a crucial role in keeping travelers safe. Unfortunately, June 2017 research by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives showed that “almost half (49 per cent) of travel managers [did] not have traveller safety training in place.” Educational initiatives can include information on your destination, how to navigate the culture, general safety tips, and how to access local resources in case of mishaps like a lost passport or a sudden minor illness. In the same ACTE report, of the travel managers polled “23 percent cite[d] a lack of awareness about available training as a hurdle,” meaning that employees of companies that had these resources available did not always know about them.
When companies frequently send travelers to emerging markets or other areas of the world that are deemed high-risk, they may opt to employ an outside duty of care provider. Companies like WorldAware (formerly iJet), International SOS, and On Call International provide 24/7 service to companies to track and assist their employees in the worst-case scenarios that might arise in volatile regions. Techniques to keep closer tabs on employees include geofencing (using GPS technology to monitor their location and send alerts if they head into unsafe areas), credit card tracking (using their purchase records, usually on a company credit card to follow their movements), or direct SMS communications. Duty of care companies also keep close tabs on the situation in countries around the world and provide updates on potential problems, from weather disasters to mounting civil unrest, to advise their clients prior to travel. Should a crisis arise, these companies provide the support needed to assure the safety of their clients’ business travelers.
Grey Areas: “Bleisure” Travel and What that Means for Duty of Care
According to a 2017 study by the GBTA foundation, the research and education arm of the Global Business Travel Association, 37 percent of North American business travelers extended a work trip for leisure in the previous year. Millennials were much more likely to have done so than Gen-Xers or Baby Boomers, which means this trend may increase in coming years. Travelers polled indicated that they most often took “bleisure” trips “to visit a destination where they like to spend their time (43 percent) or visit a new destination they wanted to see (38 percent),” with having a cheaper way to take a vacation or needing time away also cited as significant reasons.
While allowing bleisure travel can be a good way for companies to encourage their employees to find a reasonable work-life balance, having employees essentially clock out while they’re out of town or out of the country brings up questions of whose responsibility it is if something goes wrong. The 2017 GBTA foundation study noted that “on their last bleisure trip, 12 percent of travelers experienced an issue where they needed assistance from their company or the person who arranged the travel. This begs the question of when does a company’s liability and obligation to help their traveler begin and end.”
If you’re not sure if your company has a formal bleisure policy, you’re not alone. In the Bleisure Report, a 2014 study by BridgeStreet Global Hospitality, only 13.7 percent of survey respondents said their company had a policy on combining leisure travel with a business trip, with 59 percent saying no and 27.3 percent unsure. When you’re requesting additional time around a business trip to do some sightseeing or just unwind before heading back to the daily grind, it pays to clarify everybody’s expectations in advance and define what your company is and is not responsible for when you are on your own time.
Some issues to consider: Who is responsible for what expenses? Does the company’s insurance and/or assistance program extend beyond the days you’re directly engaged in business travel, or to guests or family members who may be joining you at your location? Does your company expect you to keep them informed of your location and travel arrangements during the bleisure portion of your trip? Getting firm answers to these questions before you embark on your journey will save you from potential pitfalls when your business trip has turned into a vacation.
Finding a Happy Medium Between Traveler Convenience and Duty of Care
Travel managers are beginning to accept that employees booking outside of travel management tools and corporate travel agencies is not a trend that is going away. Instead, “driven by the need to control invisible spending and adjust to new trends in traveler behavior, travel professionals are turning to technology to capture direct booking data. Some are making it easier for travelers to share their trip information, while others are using an automated data capture system, among other methods.” (Travel Industry Wire)
Shep addresses both duty of care imperatives and traveler convenience, by automatically sharing critical booking information at the time of purchase while enabling business travelers to book with their favorite direct suppliers like Delta, Airbnb, Marriott) with the OTAs (Expedia, Orbitz etc.) and OTA sites they are most comfortable with. It also provides robust reporting and analysis on travel data to give companies the big-picture information they need to shape travel policy from both budgetary and safety perspectives. For smaller companies needing to initiate duty-of-care tracking or larger companies needing to supplement existing travel management procedures to capture complete data, Shep is a lightweight solution that can be easily implemented. It balances the need for traveler convenience by giving employees more freedom to book the way they are naturally inclined to with the need for employers to responsibly manage travel risk.
When you’re traveling for business, your company needs to look out for you. You can help protect yourself by familiarizing yourself with company travel policy—whether it is minimal or comprehensive—and complying with its requirements. As Mike Kelly, former CEO of On Call International, writes, an employee should “actively participate in trip planning, follow the emergency procedures outlined in the companies’ policies and…use general common sense in avoiding unnecessary risks when traveling on behalf of their employers.” (Corporate Compliance Insights) Knowing that those policies help to promote your safety should encourage your active partnership in helping your company meet its obligations to you.