Business travel inherently puts some level of stress on a traveler. The more someone travels for business, the more their health risks can increase. And those risks and related costs don’t just affect employees and their families. They affect the employer, too, in terms of insurance and the temporary or lengthy loss of an employee.
In the context of business travel and employee health, duty of care obligates an employer to research, plan, develop, and implement a set of policies and operational procedures to mitigate the risks that employees might face when they travel for business. Duty of care encompasses both the legal and moral responsibility of organizations to care for their employees when traveling. Successfully evading risks is a matter of careful planning.
Post-COVID-19, many companies have elevated their focus on employee health, especially for business travel. Cédric Fraissinet, general manager Central Europe at International SOS, says travel health and security policies need to be intimately linked. “Just as 9/11 completely changed the security rules of the air transport industry, COVID-19 has done the same to travel risk-management practices,” Fraissinet says. “A siloed approach to health and security risks is no longer adequate; assessing employee fitness to travel, and on-trip support, is now needed more than ever before.”
From our research and experience, we have become convinced of the value of an organization assessing its objectives, its traveler needs, its culture, its current policy status, and its own unique needs before developing or revising travel policy. We have seen too many businesses that have borrowed travel policies or used policy templates to create rules that no one understands, rules that are inapplicable, or rules that may even be unnecessary.
We recommend a seven-step approach to achieving duty of care for business travel:
1. Internal assessment
Conduct an internal assessment to determine the foundational components that will form the basis for the travel program in general and how it relates to employee health in particular. Gathering all relevant materials – not just position descriptions but also existing travel policy directives and perceived risks – gets everything on the table for review, analysis, and ultimately, coordination.
For organizations looking to revise corporate travel policies under a duty-of-care model, we suggest inviting feedback from employees, those responsible for business travel, partners/vendors, and any other key stakeholders.
2. Risk assessment
The next step is to assess the health, safety, security risks, vulnerabilities, or exposure associated with the organization’s business travel requirements. The objective of any risk-management program is to mitigate risk to an acceptable level consistent with the organization’s business goals, governmental laws and regulations, and prevailing industry standards. Key risk factors to consider include:
- Destination and location risks – weather, crime rates, civil unrest, political and socioeconomic factors.
- Travel risks – issues with passports and visas, travel delays, missed connections, jet lag, fatigue.
- Health risks – hygiene and sanitation issues, infectious or food-borne or water-borne diseases, unfamiliarity with surroundings.
- Safety risks – the mode of travel, the accommodations, the neighborhood where the hotel or business meeting is to take place, the safety of local transportation.
3. Policy and procedure development
Travel policy is not about control or mere expense management. It should strike a fair balance between efficient use of the company’s resources and efforts to maintain the health, safety, well-being, and morale of traveling employees in a manner that encourages employee compliance with policy.
Key elements of establishing and revising policy and related procedures include:
- Stating the purpose of the policy
- Clearly stating your duty of care objectives
- Identifying the products of step 2, including determination of essential and non-essential travel and locations approved for travel
- Designating lead/responsible parties
- Establishing guidelines and/or acceptable exceptions, processes, and procedures for relevant groups/locations.
- Documenting policies and procedures for each step in the process, including pre-approvals, pre-travel risk assessment, reservations, monitoring, incident response, and feedback.
4. Employee education and training
Proactive communication is key to driving awareness and to anticipating or challenging misinformation. By educating everyone, an organization creates and reinforces a culture of risk awareness and discernment. Training everyone, including leadership, on policy and procedure is necessary for fulfilling duty-of-care responsibilities. All employees should be trained on the entirety of the policy itself, related procedures, processes, and protocols, and any supporting technology or other tools used by the organization.
5. Pretravel risk assessment
Identify anything that might compromise the safety, security, and well-being of a given traveling employee with respect to each specific business trip. Department managers and others responsible for managing travel should understand and carry out required reviews prior to each trip.
6. Monitoring employee travel
At a minimum, organizations should be able to track itineraries and see at a glance who is traveling, where they are, where they are staying, the length of stay, and how to contact them should an emergency arise.
7. Incident response
Should an incident occur, an organization must be able to coordinate efforts to react rapidly to the situation at hand and provide immediate and appropriate assistance to the employee. The capacity to respond quickly and efficiently is often hinged to measures taken to track and monitor employee well-being. Additionally, organizations should have comprehensive emergency response plans, including the ability to determine what constitutes an emergency, immediately implement emergency protocols, provide appropriate support and activate local support if needed.
Companies need to proactively, rather than reactively, develop policy that is thorough and explicitly addresses the health, safety, and well-being of employees. Outdated or ineffective policies create confusion and mistakes on the part of employees and often also their managers. Regular audits, analytics on compliance, and feedback collection are important tools in implementing policy and procedural changes that better ensure compliance.
Anuja Agrawalis the co-author of Check-Up, Check-In: Why Business Travel Strategies Should Prioritize Employee Health And Wellness. Agrawal also is the founder/CEO of Health Flights Solutions, which has developed the leading platform for medical travel. Agrawal has held senior executive positions with Fortune 500 companies leading divisions, defining strategic direction, managing acquisitions, and enabling strategic growth. She is an innovator, entrepreneur, and recognized leader in the IT, medical, and wellness travel industries and an expert on market development, operational strategies, and administration of medical and wellness travel for governments, regions, self-insured employers, insurance companies, and more.
Mary Miller Sallahis co-author of Check-Up, Check-In: Why Business Travel Strategies Should Prioritize Employee Health And Wellness. Miller Sallah is an advocate, serial entrepreneur and operational leader in health system transformation in developing markets. She has spent the past 15 years building boots-on-the-ground healthcare management and travel experience in multiple countries. Miller Sallah is an expert on market navigation and outsourced staffing solutions for the health and tourism sectors across the Caribbean region. She provides thought leadership about health services trade across developing markets and regions globally.