Duty of Care – Keeping their global business travelers and assignees safe has become much harder for companies than it once was. Not only are employees traveling more to high risk locations, but more locations (including the U.S.) are considered high risk.
To help protect employees in these areas, and to minimize liability, companies are increasingly advised to heed their duty of care obligations. However, unlike other measures designed to keep employees safe (e.g., health and safety regulations administered by government agencies), these can be tough to figure out. “Duty of care” can not only mean many things, but in some instances it’s not clearly determined what it consists of until after the fact. (That is, after an incident occurs and the company is held liable for what it did or didn’t do.)
Generally speaking, though, the operative word is reasonable: to reasonably anticipate potential dangers and take reasonable precautions. In terms of safety and security for global business travelers and assignees, these can include the following:
- Assessment of a location’s risk – This can range from the obvious (likelihood of violent crime) to environmental factors such as poor air quality.
- Candidate selection – Factors to consider in determining the best fit (and person most likely to stay safe) include his/her ability to do business in the host culture, overall level of cultural fluency, previous experience in similar environments, and knowledge of the local language.
- Security/safety training and briefings – These generally focus on travel risk awareness education — detailed information about any known hazards and threats associated with the destination, along with strategies for prevention and mitigation. Those traveling to Sao Paulo, for instance, would be advised on ways to avoid theft. While the city has much to offer visitors, caution should be exercised while driving, while using an ATM, at nightclubs, etc.
- Language and cultural training – Always useful in a foreign location, this is especially important in riskier environments. Assignees and business travelers will be far safer if they can communicate with those around them and vice versa.
- Medical insurance and preparation — Limited availability of appropriate preventive and therapeutic care, as well as threatening epidemics, are two common issues, as are sanitation practices and a lack of clean water and hygienic facilities. Steps that can be taken to avoid medical issues range from ensuring that employees have the required vaccines to medical evacuation plans and appropriate insurance coverage … just in case.
- Ensuring physical security – The steps required to ensure this depend upon the location and context. Measures can range from providing employees with armed drivers and armored vehicles in highly dangerous areas to ensuring the safety of the physical locations where they live and work.
For each of these risk areas, and any others identified, employers should also have a crisis response plan in place should an incident occur. If an employee is injured and needs hospitalization, for example, the protocol can include referring him or her to specific facilities and practitioners. If this isn’t possible and there are no other suitable options, medical evacuation may be required.
Employers should also put plans and processes in place to track and communicate with their employees. Communications/tracking services that enable them to communicate with the employee (and vice versa) and alert them if communication ends are of paramount importance when it comes to ensuring an individual’s safety and security.
Although Duty of Care requirements can be hazy, companies that do their best to identify these and take appropriate precautions are not only acting ethically, but potentially minimizing their liability. Also, employees who recognize an employer’s commitment to their safety and security often greatly appreciate it and, as a result, may be more willing to travel to higher risk locations.