Risk Insights
August 12, 2019

What Is a Business' Duty of Care for Traveling Employees?

A British traveler packs his phones in his suitcase before boarding his flight for London at Tunis-Carthage International Airport
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images

With the launch of Stratfor Worldview Enterprise, business leaders from a variety of backgrounds share their opinions on geopolitical risks and business strategies.

In this blog post, the first in a series, Thomas Pecora discusses a business' duty of care for employees traveling abroad. He is director of Pecora Consulting Services, which provides consulting services in security vulnerability and threat assessments in Asia and the United States, as well as personal safety and crime prevention and avoidance, and travel security skills training. Pecora is also author of the memoir, Guardian: Life in the Crosshairs of the CIA's War on Terror, and served 24 years as a CIA senior security manager. He managed large complex security programs and operations in Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle East and in war zones.

Forecasts show that spending for global business travel in 2019 and 2020 is predicted to increase 7 percent. There is no reason to believe that this trend will slow, so it is appropriate to look at security topics that directly impact the business traveler and their employers.  

But business travel is not risk-free. Besides the normal logistical issues there are some very specific health risk issues and often employers and employees have misconceptions about what exactly constitutes the biggest risk to the traveler.

The three most common issues that business travelers are to encounter are petty crime and theft, medical and health situations, and natural disasters. If your travel takes you to high-risk countries, the likelihood of encountering more serious threats rise dramatically. Companies that operate without an appropriate risk management plan may quickly find they are not prepared to effectively respond to these types of risks.

The business community is increasingly discussing the concept of duty of care. That is, an employer's responsibility for ensuring the health and safety of its employee from both a moral and legal perspective.

The business community is increasingly discussing the concept of duty of care. That is, an employer's responsibility for ensuring the health and safety of its employee from both a moral and legal perspective.  This concept encompasses more than the associated term, risk management. Risk management is the action part of the process: what we actually do to take care of our employees. Both of these concepts directly apply to the employees who travel for the company.

Businesses with any traveling workforce need to get out ahead of the duty of care. As duty of care is a complicated subject, a blog post will not do it justice. However, below is some food for thought that company management and legal staff should consider when creating effective travel safety policies and procedures. The goal, of course, is protecting both the employee and the employer.

Best Practices

Although there is no clear applicable U.S. case law, an employer would be irresponsible if it did not understand the potential legal liability associated with employee travel, especially travel abroad. Review the best practices in your specific industry and meet or exceed them. This is critical as the highest standards are always those that an employer will have to live up to and they will be applied in any litigation.

Policies and Procedures

After reviewing best practices, review the historical record of travel by employees, and any issues that have arisen as a result of that travel. Use this information to formulate applicable policies and procedures, thus creating a "program" that clearly defines responsibilities for both management and employee as well as mechanisms that will ensure that company policies are followed, and any actions required are accomplished.

Prior to any work travel, employees should provide the employer with a comprehensive travel itinerary noting all transportation data, lodging, business meetings, and any associated personal activities.

Define Responsibilities

Employer: Someone should be assigned to review an employee's travel information, ensure that company policies and procedures are followed, and track employees while they are traveling. This last element is critical as accountability (knowing the location and condition of an employee) and is a required element within the duty of care sphere. This is not a passive process. Whoever is responsible for this needs to be tracking events in the area where the employee is traveling.

Employees: Prior to any work travel, employees should provide the employer with a comprehensive travel itinerary noting all transportation data, lodging, business meetings, and any associated personal activities.  Employees are responsible for updating any changes to ensure that accurate and "actionable" information is provided to the employer. The "actionable" aspect will be critical if there is an incident.

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