Business travel provides opportunities to connect with teammates, gain fresh perspectives and network face-to-face with clients. But, despite all its benefits, business travel also comes with unique risks for employees and organizations. As part of their overall duty of care obligations, small businesses and large corporations alike must take reasonable measures to keep employees safe and support them while they travel.
So what exactly is ‘duty of care’? What are the challenges of duty of care for business travelers? And how can you fulfil your duty of care obligations when your employees go abroad?
Take a deep dive into our duty of care guide and find out what it means for your business.
What is duty of care?
Duty of care defines the responsibility of a company to protect its employees and prevent harm to a reasonable degree. In legal matters, duty of care is a standard that courts use to determine liability.
Duty of care can include:
- Making sure that the physical work environment is safe
- Complying with regulations and industry standards
- Taking care of employees’ mental health by providing resources and adequate work conditions
- Protecting employees from discrimination and bullying
In practice, duty of care can include a range of aspects depending on context and situation. Duty of care also can vary depending on which country you’re in, so be sure to consult with a local legal expert to get the most accurate definition for you.
Why is duty of care important for business travelers?
While duty of care is a legal standard, it’s also important from a moral and ethical point of view. A robust corporate duty of care program can benefit employees’ mental health, making them feel supported by their employers and improving their productivity on work trips.
Failing to fulfil your duty of care can result in legal consequences such as lawsuits and extra costs for your business. You owe your employees duty of care every day, whether that’s preventing workplace accidents or providing relevant safety education. But the importance of duty of care is especially relevant to the unique challenges of business travel. Business travelers could face natural disasters, violence, illness or other crises while abroad – and businesses have a responsibility to help navigate these uncertain situations.
In short: creating a duty of care program for business travelers now can save money, stress, and possibly even lives in the future
What is your duty of care for business travelers?
Your day-to-day office or workplace is a relatively safe, controlled environment. But business travel introduces risks and unknowns that make corporate duty of care more important than ever. Every company’s duty of care is different depending on industry, business trip destinations and more. That’s why it’s vital to create a policy or program for business travelers before anyone packs their suitcases.
Travel policies tend to cover topics such as:
- Instructions for booking flights, accommodations and transportation
- Daily budgets for food and incidentals
- Rules of conduct while traveling
- Necessary approvals
- Responsibilities of the traveler
Your travel policy is an ideal place to address duty of care obligations and champion employee health and safety while abroad. You may already have a travel policy or program that covers aspects of your duty of care obligations, but if not then be sure to add it in and keep it updated. Even established companies can benefit from re-assessing their travel policies and creating a dedicated duty of care program.
Whose responsibility is duty of care for business travelers?
Collaboration between different areas of your organization is the key to a strong corporate duty of care program, and both employers and employees have a role to play.
Duty of care for employers
Exactly who owns your duty of care program will depend on the size of your organization. Bigger companies may have a person or team dedicated to health and safety, while small to medium-sized businesses will likely need HR to own their programs.
Regardless of the size or organizational structure of your business, duty of care is ultimately everyone’s responsibility. Creating a duty of care program for business travelers is useless if it isn’t prioritized by managers and effectively communicated to employees.
To create and enforce your duty of care program, the people who should be involved are:
- Leadership and people managers. Your company leaders should be involved in creating your business travel strategy and, just as importantly, in championing policies to their teams.
- HR. HR can play a key role in communicating your duty of care program to the company. Travel policies should be built into onboarding, available for reference on your company intranet and clearly present when business travelers book their trips. You could even schedule educational sessions a few times per year.
- Legal experts. Your legal team or legal consultants should review your plan to ensure that all your obligations are being met.
- Experienced business travelers. Your employees can be valuable resources by providing insight into the current state of business travel at your organization. They can also give ongoing feedback to help refine your policies.
Duty of care for employees
Building a culture of safety requires input from employees at every level. While organizations are responsible for their duty of care programs, employees also have a role to play. Before traveling for work, employees should educate themselves on their company’s travel policies, safety programs and any relevant information for their trip. Employees are also responsible for following the policy before, during, and after their trips.
This means that you need to encourage your employees to follow business travel compliance.
How can you build a duty of care program?
Whether you call it a duty of care program, duty of care policy or travel safety policy, every organization should have a dedicated plan for their business travelers. You need to know all the worst case scenarios to be prepared.
Business travelers may run into a range of situations, including:
- Travel disruptions
- Natural disasters
- Extreme weather conditions
- Disease outbreaks and health emergencies
- Crime and terrorism
- Political or social unrest
- New travel laws
There are plenty of approaches to creating your strategy, but here are three steps to get you started.
1. Risk assessment
Before you can institute a duty of care program, you need to understand business travel at your organization. You can begin by assessing business travel risks in general and on a trip-by-trip basis.
In general, ask yourself:
- What are the most common destinations your employees are traveling to?
- What’s the nature of these business trips? For example, meeting a client at their office carries different risks than surveying a construction site abroad.
Before each individual trip, ask:
- Is this a domestic or an international trip?
- Does the traveler have a valid passport, correct visa and any other necessary documents?
- Are there currently any travel warnings from your government for the destination?
- Is there any ongoing conflict or political unrest in the destination?
- Is there increased risk of food or waterborne illness?
- Are there any epidemics or diseases affecting the region? If so, are there vaccines or other preventive measures available?
- Will travelers have access to timely medical care if needed?
Answering these questions will help you determine where the risks lie for your business. You can use them as a starting point for discussing travel safety at your organization and to begin planning a travel policy that incorporates duty of care.
Keep in mind that different business travelers face different risks. For example, some destinations may be more unsafe for women or LGBTQ+ travelers or certain diseases may impact people differently (e.g. the Zika virus is asymptomatic for many people, but dangerous if you’re pregnant). Consult your team and include different points of view to ensure your risk assessment is looking at the full picture.
2. Planning and prevention
Once you’ve completed your risk assessment, it’s time to build your strategy. Every company’s duty of care program will vary depending on the risks you’re responding to. But there are some unifying principles to keep in mind.
- Your plan should provide support for business travelers before, during and after their trips.
- You should have measures in place to promote employee wellness and avoid burnout. This could include setting standards for the accommodations they book or encouraging them to plan manageable schedules for their trips.
- Regardless of destination, you should have a plan for emergency situations such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks.
- Travel risks change and evolve over time. Your plan should include regularly revisiting, reviewing and revising your duty of care program – in addition to responding to global situations as they arise.
3. Communication and education
After you’ve assessed the risks your business travelers face and crafted a robust strategy to protect and support employees, you still have work to do. Fulfilling your duty of care obligation is an ongoing project. Organizations are responsible for communicating travel policies and educating employees about travel safety.
Alongside ongoing education, build in timely touchpoints to refresh business travelers on travel safety topics. Make policies visible when employees plan their trips, provide resources for them to reference while they travel and ask them to reflect and provide feedback when they return from their business trips.
By clearly communicating with employees, you can make sure that your travel policies are effective and fulfil your duty of care.
Duty of care tips
- Stay organized - keep employees’ trip itineraries somewhere accessible so that you know where they are throughout their trip. You should also have contact info for the traveler, their hotel or accommodation, and their emergency contacts on hand.
- Keep your own records - duty of care is a legal standard, and you may need to provide documentation of how you’ve met your obligations. Keeping thorough records as you build your program can save you time and stress if you ever do face a lawsuit.
- Don’t forget mental health - it’s easy to focus on physical safety risks, but don’t forget about business travel’s impact on mental health. Traveling puts people in stressful situations, so make sure you approach health and safety from a holistic point of view.
Understanding your duty of care can be complicated, and the unpredictable nature of business travel only makes it more complex. When you do it right, duty of care is more than an abstract legal term; it’s about keeping your team safe, healthy and supported. With thorough risk assessment, robust planning, and ongoing communication, you and your team can be prepared for anything.