Happy, healthy and looked-after employees are the bedrock of any business, and these requirements escalate in importance when it comes to their well-being when away for business, especially in international locations, navigating cultures that are outside of their normal comfort zone.
WHAT IS MEANT BY ‘DUTY OF CARE’?
Quite simply, it means your duty, as an employer, to care for your employees. This is not just a moral obligation, but a legal one, too. It means you must do everything you reasonably can to ensure their safety while away for business, and to remove as many risks to their mental and physical health as you can. We’ll cover your Duty of Care policy further down this page, but as a general note, it should cover everything from top level concerns, right down to the small details, like ensuring there’s a plan in place in the event on one of your employees losing their travel documents.
WHY IS DUTY OF CARE IMPORTANT?
Proper Duty of Care is of the utmost importance, and your various obligations should be clearly defined in an internal document that’s been approved by both the human resources and legal departments. Duty of Care should cover an employee for all types of travel, and it’s a misconception that it’s only relevant when sending employees to high risk destinations (e.g. places where terrorism warnings are in place, or places that are embroiled in natural disasters and the like).
Specifically, some of the reasons why you should take Duty of Care seriously include (but are not limited to):
It goes without saying that healthy, calm staff are going to perform far better on business trips than those are suffering physically or experiencing stress or anxiety. Therefore, it makes sense purely from a productivity point of view (as well as a basic moral one) to ensure employees away for business are properly looked after.
If employees feel their company doesn’t care about them, they will soon stop caring about their company. Conversely, if an employee feels looked-after - especially when travelling for business, which is nerve racking enough in its own right - then this will engender loyalty, and more motivated employees, which will obviously be good for business.
It is an employee’s legal right to be cared for appropriately when away for business (and in the workplace in general), and if a company fails in its obligation to provide for this, and the employee suffers some kind of harm as a direct or indirect result of that lack of care, the employee has every right to sue their company for negligence.
The last few decades have seen the world open up like never before, with new markets and opportunities for trade emerging all over the place. Often these new markets are in what the West likes to call ‘developing countries’ (Vietnam, Turkey etc.), so it’s more important than ever that proper Duty of Care guidelines are in place for employees in countries very different to their own.
WHAT KINDS OF THINGS SHOULD DUTY OF CARE COVER?
The easiest way to formulate your Duty of Care policy when it comes to business travel is to categorise it down into three verticals: pre-travel, during travel, and post-travel.
One of the primary concerns here involves risk assessment, which means an analysis of various factors that are related to any one trip. Generally speaking, the higher the perceived risk, the more thorough the risk assessment should be. The two main considerations involve the individual travelling, and the external environment they’ll be working in.
As for the former, you’ll need to have a reasonably good understanding of their general physical and mental health, and ensure they aren’t put in any situations which could exacerbate any ailments, be that a heart condition or anxiety disorder. As for the latter, you’ll need to take into account things like road safety (and plan transport accordingly), the climate, the presence of diseases or viruses (e.g. if the destination is in a malaria zone, precautions should be taken) and adverse weather.
Things to cater for here include ensuring the location of the employee is always known (for example, via a geo tracking system in a travel app, so that managers know exactly where the individual is at any given moment), making sure the employee knows not only where to seek help should something go awry (like a cancelled flight) but that that help is actually on hand (this is where travel management services like FCBT are of crucial importance, with things like 24/7 emergency hotlines), and protocol for response management.
In most cases, once the employee is back home, Duty of Care in a business travel sense becomes slightly less important, as any risk factors are now mostly gone. However it’s still vitally important to provide things like post-travel health check-ups (for example, if an employee has spent significant time in a high-risk malaria zone, they should be given post-travel check-ups to ensure they haven’t brought anything nasty home.
In a nutshell, the more you look after your employees, the better it is for your business in the long run.
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