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Providing duty of care for a globally mobile workforce

Matthew Judge

With organisations continuing to expand their global footprint, travel and foreign work assignments remain critical to business success. Contributor Matthew Judge, Group Managing Director – The Anvil Group.

Whilst an increased movement of the workforce around the globe is essential for strategic growth, this rise in global mobility brings with it inherent risks to both the individual and the organisation. From political or civil unrest, natural disasters, exposure to disease… to simply being caught off-guard in unfamiliar locations, employees can find themselves encountering a wide range of scenarios out of their control.

Although duty of care may be engrained in many organisations’ policies and processes for dealing with risks in the workplace, this becomes far more complex when that workplace could literally be anywhere in the world. So how do you ensure that you’re providing adequate duty of care for those under your global care remit?

It’s important to remind ourselves what duty of care means. In its simplest form, duty of care is an employer’s responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business. Employers must do whatever is reasonably practicable to achieve this. “Whatever is reasonably practicable” is a broad term and obviously open to a certain amount of ambiguity. It’s not surprising that there can often be confusion around what is needed in order to provide the necessary duty of care for all concerned, especially when it comes to travel or relocation.

A step by step approach
For organisations without the internal resources to create and administer an all-encompassing travel risk management programme, ensuring that they have ticked all the necessary duty of care boxes can undoubtedly be a challenge.

In order to ensure that corporate policies encompass all of the necessary duty of care requirements, organisations to take a step back and examine the end to end process. Breaking it down into logical stages makes this far easier to manage. In essence, a successful duty of care programme can be achieved by following a number of basic steps:

Understanding the risks
The first important step an organisation needs to take is to determine and analyse their global travel exposure. In order to do this, they need to collate information on all of their travelling employees worldwide, taking into account locations, job functions, employee behaviour, mitigating circumstances and dependent travel.

Special locations, risks and coverages must also be considered – for example, the needs of expatriate and long-term assignees will require different considerations to the needs of short-term business travellers.

Developing the policy
The organisation then needs to develop a travel risk policy with key stakeholders and experts. The risk policy needs to be fully engrained within the overarching travel policy and communicated to all. This should include protocols on both proactive and reactive strategies and include clear guidance on the roles and responsibilities of internal and external stakeholders, clarifying the various insurance and assistance partners and programmes in place (security and medical, evacuation and assistance etc.) Although travel policies are often seen as the exclusive realm of the travel manager, it’s important that HR stakeholders also play a key role in creating and reviewing them, particularly when it comes to the subject of managing risk.

Once the policy is established, employees need to be educated to ensure that they fully understand the commitment undertaken by their organisation but also the roles that they themselves need to play.

Relevant training and education programmes then need to be provided for employees, arrangers and managers, ranging from online awareness courses on general travel risks and how to avoid or reduce them, to medical risks and specific country preparation and intercultural training.

The more prepared organisations and their employees are, the more successful each assignment or trip will be. The first form of required monitoring is geographical. Providing trusted pre and on-trip information covering destination risk assessments, medical information and country profiles will ensure that organisations and their employees are as prepared as they possibly can be before any journey or assignment even takes place.

The second form of monitoring is that of the individual employee. Possessing real-time data on their static locations (residence and work), scheduled and live travel itineraries will empower organisations to take the necessary measures to help ensure their safety. Deploying a system that allows organisations to locate and communicate quickly and clearly with employees is also critical to managing and mitigating risks and ensuring a positive outcome.

Offering both reactive and proactive support for employees 24/7 is a key component of any effective duty of care programme. Organisations may have updated intelligence or guidance that they need to share with employees before or during their assignment; employees themselves may have their own security or medical concerns that they require advice on or assistance with.

Having the right communication channels in place and highly skilled advisors on hand around the clock can help organisations and individuals to pre-empt, where possible, and to deal effectively with potential incidents that they may face.

Rare as they may be, there will be times when organisations and their employees could find themselves faced with the seemingly unimaginable. Implementing an incident management programme to plan for, avoid and respond to such crisis situations (e.g. emergency evacuations, providing close protection services during security incidents, dealing with kidnap for ransom cases etc.) is therefore vital. This incident management plan should be developed with all involved parties, internally and externally, and be regularly updated and tested.

Key questions to ask
The process of providing adequate duty of care for your mobile workforce needs to begin long before a single journey commences. Fully understanding the risks you are exposing your travellers to, assessing those risks and ensuring that the appropriate risk mitigation measures are in place are fundamental, yet often overlooked, components of a truly effective duty of care programme. So ask yourself the following:

  • Do you have a clear and accurate picture of the risks and the dynamic real time threats your people may face?
  • Do you have the right policies and procedures in place to contextualise, understand and treat these risks?
  • Are the policies and procedures engrained across the whole organisation? Are they documented, understood and complied with?
  • Before a trip is even booked, is a comprehensive risk assessment carried out and are adequate control measures in place?
  • Are your travellers provided with the necessary briefings and training to prepare them for all possible eventualities, before they actually travel?
  • If the answer to any of these is no, then it’s time to step in and take a good look at your duty of care provision.

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