Employers are mandated to provide a safe work environment for their employees, but what does that obligation look like when the employee travels for work, whether domestically or abroad? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. But we can develop best practices from recent case law and emerging trends.
Courts are more likely to issue a favorable verdict to an employer who demonstrates responsible corporate behavior. If, as an employer, you can show evidence that you proactively considered risks before putting an employee in a new environment, you are more likely to avoid a loss in court. It behooves you to implement prudent policies and procedures, to provide sufficient training for the period of travel, and to clearly define the employee’s responsibilities while traveling.
Additional risk mitigation strategies, such as employee monitoring and incident tracking, should be considered, as well.
Employee Travel Dos and Don’ts
Don’t implement corporate travel policies that focus solely on expenses and not on safety. Employees are more likely to adhere to a policy if it not only saves the company money, but also provides them protection.
Do explain to employees that by using preferred providers, the employee will be better protected and have access to resources that they would not have otherwise.
Don’t make exceptions for some employees and not for all. Be consistent with policies and procedures. Not doing so derails your efforts in a number of ways. Besides reducing the credibility of your policy, it can have more serious consequences. For example, when dealing with a fast-developing civil unrest situation, time may be of the essence to get your employees out of the area. Your policy and procedures may send a car to get the employees, but if you have one employee staying in a different location (outside of policy), you face a difficult decision to leave one behind, or increase the risk of the others.
Don’t fail to identify specific risks in the business your employees are traveling to do.
Do consider all the risks that face an employee that you, as the employer, can reasonably ascertain. How do you do that? By getting out of the office and seeing for yourself how that job will be performed and under what conditions the employee will be working. Are there medical or security risks you had not considered? Things like dog bites, dangerous neighborhoods, arriving late to unlit parking lots, etc. Join an industry group and find out what your peers are doing.
Don’t set it and forget it. Policies and procedures, that is. Consider, assess and address new risks and amend policies and procedures accordingly. Be sure new business opportunities are communicated so that risks can be assessed in time to consider additional controls that may need to be implemented.
Do consider how privacy concerns impact travel risk management, and use good policy to address those issues. For instance, some companies want to track an employee’s whereabouts 24/7 through their mobile phone. Other companies see that as an invasion of privacy. Decide what you expect from employees, communicate your policy with transparency and be sure to protect personally identifiable information.
Don’t focus on headline events such as natural disasters, terrorism, or civil unrest but forget the more common occurrences such as car accidents, heart trouble, or robberies.
Do make sure emergency numbers are at hand when needed. In emergencies, contact info must be readily available because there is no time to look for it. Sentinel recommends that you have your employees save emergency numbers in their cell phones and printed in their wallet.
Don’t fail to plan for infectious disease events. Though Ebola was a wake-up call, many plans still do not address this risk.
Do conduct scenario testing plans. Serious issues while travelling don’t occur frequently. It is not recommended to test your policies and procedures for the first time during a real situation.
International Travel: Special Considerations
- Mobile apps are making it easier (and expected) that employees can access medical and security resources 24/7. Situations can escalate quickly.
- Top-level risks include illness, lack of access to western standards of medical care, infectious diseases and travel-related infections.
- Local laws vary. For example, in Australia and the UK, negligent employers face both civil and criminal penalties and in Belgium, an employers’ responsibility has been extended to employees’ trips to work and home from work. Many more countries are developing “duty of care” laws.
- Don’t assume that only US laws apply if you are a US employer. You may assume that Workers’ Compensation laws are a sole remedy for US-based employee injuries. However, there can be exceptions, particularly for non-work days or claims by third parties such as spouses.
- Don’t assume you will be protected by merely adding risk or arbitration clauses to employment contracts.
- You must provide pre-trip information that is relevant. Employees should be made aware not only of the medical or security risks, but should also be told about local customs and practices. You can not underestimate this. Vaccinations might be necessary, but do you also advise them to hail a taxi, use public transportation, or is it necessary to use a company arranged car service? Consider that your employee may be traveling to an area with a legal and moral code of conduct that is far different than the U.S.
- Collaboration among your various departments (HR, Security, Operations, etc.) is necessary. Understand what insurance and travel services are available and how they work together.
- Don’t underestimate the need for in-country authorization of medical expense payment. In some cases, your employee could be forced to provide their personal payment information, pay cash, or be declined treatment if the company has not setup a mechanism to authorize medical treatment.
- Don’t forget to plan for your employee’s loved ones, if they are along for the trip. You need to consider what benefits are extended. For example, if a natural disaster or civil unrest breaks out, will you evacuate family as well?
- For universities, your obligation may extend to students as well as teachers on study abroad trips.
- Don’t make the mistake of not addressing sojourn travel. If employees extend a business trip for personal holiday, is it clear whether they get company benefits during that time? If not, have you provided them advice to cover the gap?
- If you have multiple sites, are local emergency procedures communicated? You don’t want an employee to be experiencing a medical emergency while at another site and not know how to dial for help.
- Address critical medication issues. Medication is called different things in different countries. Access may be difficult or even impossible for some medications.
Other considerations include:
–If seriously injured, an employee may wish to have a family member be with them. Will the company cover this?
–What if the country has laws that are in opposition to US discrimination laws (LGBT)?
–Avoid traveling with company branded tags, bags, shirts, etc. as it can make the individual a target for kidnapping.
–Is your employee traveling under their own volition? When sending an employee to a risky area, it’s important that the employee be willing to travel and not feel an ‘implied’ pressure to go. This provision is especially important when asking people to travel to places with known exposure to dangerous viruses, such as Zika and Ebola, locations at high altitudes, etc.