Your Duty of Care to Traveling Employees
The safety of traveling employees is an employer’s responsibility. The policies and procedures you set will help minimize problems and streamline solutions as part of your organization’s legal duty of care.
A corporate travel handbook should have an action plan for any foreseeable risk — as well as unpredictable events. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of having a game plan for navigating the unknown.
What exactly are an employer’s responsibilities when it comes to duty of care, and how can you ensure that your corporate policies are ready for anything? This guide will walk you through everything you need to know.
What is Duty of Care in Business Travel?
Duty of care to employees refers to an organization’s responsibility, in good faith, to protect employees from undue risk, be it physical or psychological.
Business travel managers and coordinators are responsible for acting in the best interest of everyone in the company’s employ when making decisions about travel.
Per the IRS, business travel is any trip away from the traveler’s home and lasts longer than a typical workday. When you send your employees out of the city or the location of your main business, and they’re gone for at least one night, they’re under this category and you have a duty of care to them.
Duty of care always includes making travel arrangements so that employees arrive and return safely, as well as planning overall strategies to minimize risks.
In a post-COVID context, this might include:
- Researching COVID-19 prevalence, rules, and ordinances at their destination
- Staying abreast of CDC guidelines in real-time
- Canceling or postponing high-risk trips
While vaccines are sometimes a personal choice, travel to some areas may require certain vaccinations. This was true for many international travelers before COVID-19 and continues as post-COVID business travel rebounds.
Defining Responsibility in Duty of Care Policies
Travel risk management is also a responsibility of the traveler. While the employer should establish policies for safe travel, the employee must then be sure to abide by these policies.
Part of your duty of care as the employer is ensuring that the traveler is informed of all the relevant policies that they should follow while traveling.
When you break down their duty of care versus yours as the employer, you’re pointing out what the company is responsible for and what the traveler is responsible for.
Employer Duty of Care
As an employer, your company’s duty of care is the obligation to protect all employees from undue risks. Your corporate travel risk management program likely already has plans in place for the most common problems that could impact the safety, well-being, and health of your employees.
Your duty of care policy instructions should cover action steps if a traveler:
- Misses a flight
- Becomes sick while on the trip
- Loses an important document (like their license or passport)
- Has an accident
These things are under the legal umbrella of your responsibility, as the safety and well-being of your employee are at risk when these problems occur on a work-related trip. The individual dealing with the issue will have to do part of the work to solve the problem, but while they do, it’s up to you to get them home safely.
Traveler Duty of Care
According to the law, your employees don’t have any legal duty of care obligations on a business trip.
In fact, the employer is also potentially liable for an employee’s actions while they are traveling on business. For example, if the employee engages in risky behavior and experiences harm as a result of it, it can fall under the employer’s duty of care.
And in cases where someone on a business trip caused personal harm to another individual, the employer was held liable.
These scenarios are unlikely, of course. But according to a 2015 survey by On Call International, employees tend to take part in riskier behavior (such as binge drinking) while on work-related trips than at home.
That means it’s important to establish and communicate policies to set expectations for your employees’ behavior while traveling.
Putting these policies in writing and having employees sign them pre-trip can help reduce your liability.
Keeping your employees safe while traveling is step 1. Staying healthy is step 2! Read 11+ Healthy Travel Tips for Business Trips.
Industry-Specific OSHA Duty of Care Guidelines
The government has established OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act) guidelines that oversee employee safety.
You have some flexibility in how you define your corporate rules regarding business travel, but OSHA’s laws are strict and unyielding. It can cost you significantly if you don’t follow them and an employee becomes injured on a work trip.
Duty of care extends when you’re sending your workers to remote or hazardous sites. Accidents happen more frequently in certain industries, which is why OSHA has established industry-specific guidelines to manage risks and keep employees safe.
OSHA Duty of Care for Construction, Manufacturing and Engineering
Industries like Construction, Manufacturing, Energy and Oil & Gas have an enhanced duty of care for traveler safety. This requires meeting strict OSHA standards.
Construction and Manufacturing Industry Practices
The construction and manufacturing fields have always been near the top of the list of the most dangerous careers in the country. When employees travel to a new work site, the inherent risks of the profession can be exacerbated.
OSHA recommends proactive practices for these businesses that include using:
- Higher-quality products
- New techniques
- Better, safer equipment
OSHA breaks down construction and manufacturing into subcategories. Check the appropriate section to ensure that you understand exactly what is required of your business. Compare it to your duty of care policy and safety practices to ensure you’ve covered everything you’re legally obligated to.
Energy and Oil & Gas Industry Practices
The energy industry includes oil and gas and anything defined as a “green job” by the government. These are jobs that help protect the environment.
The processes involved in drilling, trenching, excavating or constructing green energy systems can carry the risk of serious injury or even death.
How You Can Meet Your Duty of Care in a Changing World
Employee travel planning is more ambiguous than ever post-pandemic. Civil unrest may also be a possible concern at some destinations.
It’s more important than ever to do your research and avoid risky areas when planning international business travel. It helps to consult a business travel risk assessment checklist.
To find reliable information about destinations, check travel alerts and consult CDC guidelines to help you make informed decisions and minimize risk when your employees need to travel abroad.
If you have employees frequently traveling for your business, establishing travel policies and procedures minimizes risk and liability. Consider updating your corporate policy manual using OSHA’s guidelines as a foundation.
To further minimize risk, use Hotel Engine’s dashboard features to see where all your travelers are staying. Keeping track of your workers ensures you can locate them in case of any emergency. Learn more about how Hotel Engine can help you manage travel.
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Audrey Fairbrother is the Content and SEO Manager at Hotel Engine. She spends her days writing about all things business travel, researching topics that are important to Hotel Engine’s audience and cultivating the company’s brand voice. When she’s not working, Audrey enjoys spending time with her family, and hiking in the nearby Rockies with her dog, Albie.