Duty of Care
What is Duty of Care?
Duty of care is an organization’s legal obligation to protect employees from harm. This responsibility extends to different aspects of workers' activities. The concept is especially vital outside of regular workplace settings, such as during job-related travel. Business travelers deal with different risks than they would in an office setting.
Here is an in-depth look at travel management duty of care.
What is duty of care?
Legal experts define duty of care as a broad legal term extending beyond the workplace to all aspects of public life. A person is obligated to take precautions to protect others. They must take all the steps a reasonable person would take in the same situation to avoid causing harm.
If someone's actions do not meet this standard of reasonableness, the law could consider them negligent. When someone is negligent, they are liable for damage caused by their dangerous actions or lack of appropriate care.
One of the simplest duty of care examples is observing the speed limit and following generally accepted safe driving practices on the road. In the workplace, it involves taking reasonable steps to protect employees from harm. Not only do employers have a legal obligation to care for employees, but there are also ethical reasons to keep employees from harm.
In travel management, duty of care involves taking reasonable steps to ensure health and safety, protecting employees from common travel problems, providing basic needs like food and drink, and avoiding putting workers in a situation where they are likely to experience stress or discrimination.
In other words, employers should understand common travel-related risks and take reasonable steps to mitigate them.
Why does duty of care matter?
Keeping people out of harm’s way is, of course, the right thing to do. When business leaders create a safe environment, it can establish employee trust, loyalty, and promote retention.
However, duty of care is more than an act of kindness. Predicting risk, taking preventative measures, and responding quickly to crises helps maintain business continuity, which is a critical corporate goal. It’s also a legal requirement that’s recognized and enforced around the world. Failure to provide duty of care can land a company in legal jeopardy. Just how much trouble depends on the nature of the offense and the country in which an organization is based.
Learn more in our podcast: Duty of Care: Protecting Your Travelers Protects Your Bottom Line with Deloitte
Who is responsible for duty of care?
Duty of care is a big, complex responsibility. And far too much for any one person or department to handle alone. Rather than being limited to travel managers, travel management companies, finance leaders, security teams, HR, risk and compliance professional – it's up to an entire organization to work together and provide quality duty of care.
The first step in meeting these obligations is to create a framework for duty of care and travel risk management.
A framework for duty of care in travel management
A duty of care framework covers all aspects of employee travel.
- Undertaking planning and booking and providing employees with information about the trip
- Defining potential risks for the trip and destination
- Taking steps to avoid these risks and providing contingency plans for known risks that can't be avoided
- Offering reasonable health and safety protection and services during travel
- Arranging communication, support, and expert care if needed.
Travel planning and information
Travel managers need to book transportation and accommodations that meet reasonable standards. The modes of transport and accommodation should be safe and not expose employees to undue risk or health and safety problems. They should also meet any of the employee's special needs for accessibility or services.
Travel managers also provide employees with the information necessary to manage their travels and take advantage of the necessary services. This communication can also involve making the employee aware of risks and contingencies and providing access to a platform to access all travel information remotely.
Risk assessment for business travel covers general and specific dangers. An organization's travel managers can get safety data from official sources, such as the US State Department, respected news agencies, and local governments. Dangers could include:
- Natural disasters,
- Civil or political unrest,
- High crime rates,
- Current health problems,
- A lack of access to medical care,
- Safety issues related to identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or other factors.
An organization can perform and update risk assessments for destinations employees visit often and maintain a database for efficient assessment.
Accounting for risks
Risk management plans fall into two categories: avoidable and unavoidable. Travel planners can avoid some risks completely by adjusting plans. For instance, if the destination has a high risk of traffic accidents, they can book airplane or train trips and give employees information about a local subway service or book a hotel within walking distance of the meeting or conference venue.
Unavoidable risks require a plan to limit damage or danger. This step usually includes purchasing travel insurance to cover medical and evacuation costs and lost or stolen baggage. Travelers need access to this insurance information and should be aware of the procedures they need to follow in case they encounter these issues.
Duty of care in travel risk management extends to monitoring the situation in the destination, including weather forecasts, security and public health updates, and other risk-related information. Travel risks evolve. For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic, safety practices evolved from day to day. Duty of care involves ensuring employees are aware of such changes before and during their travels.
Risks can include accounting for general health and safety needs beyond those associated with emergencies. Duty-of-care examples include ensuring the employee has the necessary vaccinations or medication to avoid illnesses common at their destination.
Information about climate-appropriate clothing and other necessities will not only help the employee remain comfortable and avoid the stress of not having necessary items for their trip. While some employees are experienced travelers able to prepare independently, others may not yet have these skills. Sharing concise preparation information will ensure proper duty of care for all employees, regardless of their experience level.
Duty of care extends to mental health, as well. Preparation can reduce the anxiety and stress levels of employees during their travels.
All organizations should ensure they communicate each aspect of their risk management framework to employees. A lack of clarity about expectations, procedures, or safety processes can confuse and lead to disruptions, safety problems, and other issues. As such, communication is an essential aspect of duty of care. An organization should assess how they communicate and the information they provide to ensure it is concise, clear, and covers all necessary topics.
Challenges and trends in travel risk management
Recent weather, public health, and societal events had and continue to have a strong impact on travel risk management. Examples of these challenges include the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme weather events, global economic uncertainty, and civil protests in the US, France, and Canada.
These events cause companies to adjust travel plans, re-assess the need for travel, seek alternatives like video conferencing and online project management platforms, prioritize preparedness measures, and assess individual risks of employees. Duty of care plays a vital role as companies tried to limit the dangers associated with these challenges.
The availability of data helps organizations make real-time updates to risk assessment plans. What type of information can affect travel plans and bring new risks? Public health issues like pandemics or disease outbreaks can expose travelers to risks and cause restrictions or travel shutdowns. Meanwhile, weather events or natural disasters can cause delays or cancelations, potentially leaving travelers stranded.
Even seemingly simple events, such as airline workers' strikes, can cause delays and leave employees stuck at a connecting airport.
The increased reliance on data to assess risks and conduct travel-related duty-of-care gives rise to a couple of issues. First, companies need to ensure the quality of the information they receive. Accurate weather forecasts, confirmed news reports, and policy changes from official sources are essential for good decision-making. Inaccurate data may not only cause delays, but it can put traveling employees at risk.
In other words, duty-of-care requirements include verifying the accuracy and quality of travel-related data.
Secondly, the information needs to be organized. Travel and HR managers have to be able to see data for a specific location and receive alerts that affect a specific employee's travels. With the ability to organize information and filter out irrelevant reports, managers would be overwhelmed and unable to take advantage of real-time updates.
Finally, thanks to advances in cloud computing and mobile data, travelers and employers can remain connected and share data and risk assessments in real time. This connection makes it easier to provide support to traveling workers.
Is duty of care difficult to fulfill?
Yes, it can be — especially today. The rise of online booking has blown the once-centralized travel system wide open as employees book travel themselves across multiple sites. These challenges make it harder than ever to capture complete reservation data, know where travelers are, stay connected, and get employees home quickly should an emergency arise.
The point is that understanding and planning for unforeseen risks is a significant aspect of duty of care. This goes for everything from canceled flights to severe weather to political unrest in a foreign country.
How can a company fulfil duty of care obligations?
There’s risk attached to almost everything in life. So, it’s impossible to eliminate travel-related risks. The best that any organization can do is to be ready for the unexpected. A big part of this comes from having the tools, partners, and data necessary to meet duty-of-care requirements.
SAP Concur solutions can consolidate booking, expense, credit card, and mobile data from multiple sources in near real-time. That way, companies create a comprehensive and integrated duty-of-care program that helps them:
- Find all employee locations and itineraries in one place,
- Monitor risks and potential threats that could affect employees,
- Communicate easily with employees and connect them to expert support.
These tools help companies efficiently manage travel, meet duty-of-care obligations, and support employees as they embark on their journeys.
Learn more about duty of care
Ready to expand your knowledge about Duty of Care? Watch the on-demand replay of Ask the Experts: Evolving Your Travel and Expense Program from SAP Concur Fusion 2023. And for more insights into travel and spend management trends, be sure to follow us on social media.