In the 2015 film Spy, directed by Paul Feig, Melissa McCarthy plays a CIA analyst who supports Jude Law on his espionage missions. Although she’s not out in the field with him, McCarthy’s character (Susan Cooper) is connected to Jude Law (Bradley Fine) via tiny POV cameras, GPS tracking and a walkie-talkie earpiece. Susan coaches Bradley’s every move, alerting him to dangers and steering him on the safest paths to complete the mission.
In the world of corporate travel management, Susan Cooper represents your company’s travel manager. While business travelers venture out in the field to conduct meetings and close deals, travel managers stay back at company headquarters to run point on the operation. In addition to booking hotels and transportation, a travel manager is also in charge of their employees’ safety and security on the road.
Defining Duty of Care and International Implications
When an employee travels on behalf of the employer, the travel manager bears a legal, moral, ethical and financial duty of care to avoid the risk of reasonably foreseeable injury to their employees. Duty of care runs the scope of employee interactions, from mundane decisions like setting a maximum driving time limit, to emergency situations like what to do in case of an earthquake.
Because of the duty of care, travel managers must institute risk management strategies to keep their team safe. For corporate travel managers, it is imperative to establish a corporate travel policy that proactively protects employees as well as limits liability to the company. The main decisions within the policy—from selecting vendors, analyzing risk, setting limitations, and monitoring dangerous conditions—collectively impact each business traveler’s wellbeing and ultimately their life.
The duty of care is not just for large companies with thousands of employees or high risk travel routes, but it also applies to small businesses. Determining your company’s level of risk averseness is an essential part of your company culture. Do you take time during the day to encourage employees to take preventative measures at work? Do you practice building evacuation drills?
If a workplace accident occurs in the United States, and the company is covered by Worker’s Compensation insurance, then the remedy for the employee is limited, in most instances, to a Worker’s Compensation claim. However, this is not the case with international incidents. If an accident happens abroad, an employee can sue their employer for negligence. According to a Whitepaper by Fisher and Phillips that studied legal obligations for US companies that engage in international business travel, US companies can be held liable for injuries sustained while on foreign assignments at any time because foreign workers “will likely be deemed ‘at work’ 24 hours each day, 7 days each week during the trip—even while away from the regular workplace at a party, out drinking at a bar or strolling across a public square.” Simply put, the company is sending the person as their agent and on their behalf and has a responsibility from the time travel starts until it ends.
Beyond the general risks to travel like medical issues and accidents, today’s travelers must be on the lookout for political crises, unpredictable natural disasters and violent attacks. It may seem overwhelming to travel managers to stay informed on the plethora of global tensions today. In recent years, there have been multiple violent acts in major European cities, as well as force majeure instances like tsunamis.
Purchasing a business travel insurance policy, or relying on OSHA or Workers’ Comp, is not enough, as “workplace safety regulations of the host country, not the home country, tend to control” in court. Proactive steps need to be taken before and during foreign business travel assignments.
Preventing an incident saves the company money and also protects the company’s reputation. Negative foreign travel incidents can morph into world-wide news headlines and costly litigation can financially break the company.
Technologies and Resources for Protecting Employees
Duty of care laws have been implemented around the globe. For example, the United Kingdom passed the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act of 2007 (Manslaughter Act). However, because the United States lacks a clearly defined statute, the duty of care obligations and penalties fall under common law. Thus, there is no clear outline with specific steps on how to satisfy the duty of care. But new technologies, strategies and resources have been developed that assist travel managers with fulfilling their duty to keep their employees safe from foreseeable harm.
According to a 2016 report by Concur, the #1 most visited business travel destination of 2016 was China. US business travelers are increasingly branching into new, developing markets, where travel is difficult. For example, taxis with seat belts are replaced by tuk-tuks with no windshields. Language barriers can lead to misunderstandings and also drastically slow down help if needed.
In order to mitigate risks associated with foreign business trips, it’s imperative to prepare for specific dangers before the trip even begins. Travel managers must assess questions like:
- What are the cultural differences, customs and mores at the destination?
- Is it safe to travel at night there?
- Where are the closest medical care facilities?
- What is the current political climate?
- Is the weather forecast clear?
- Is private security necessary?
- Are immunizations required?
- What is the plan in case of emergency?
The International SOS Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation with the goal to mitigate risks for people working abroad. The service provides security updates and recent police activity related to tourist safety. It also provides advice on how to proceed with travel plans and a 24 hour travel assistance hotline.
Avoiding a Passive Approach
According to a BTN online poll that queried 204 travel buyers, 71% track travelers using itinerary inputs, 30% use credit card data, and 12% use GPS technology within the traveler’s mobile device. This means that most travel managers are using passive means to keep track of their employees’ last whereabouts, plus a whopping 17% percent are completely failing to track their travelers altogether.
According to Suzanne Wolko, a seasoned global business travel manager with both PhilaTravelGirl and Arden Road Travel, “Duty of Care is at the top of my priorities list.”
Wolko persevered through major incidents and kept track of her team through technology: “During 9/11, when the planes were grounded, we knew immediately where our staff were around the world and worked with them to get them home. During the Iceland volcano eruption, we had staff on vacation, on business around the world and worked on backup working locations and travel plans.”
Wolko tells the 30SecondsToFly Team that is is important to book within your company’s channels and share itinerary information and locations. “Allowing an employee to just book online or use the sharing economy is fraught with risk to the company in so many ways.”
Real-Time Tracking Programs
According to James Page, Senior Vice President and Chief Administration Officer of AIG Travel, “knowing where employees are while traveling on business trips is a key area of focus for AIG Travel,” which is a leading travel insurance and assistance provider.
In fact, the company recently introduced an online tool called Travel Guard® Travel Tracer that gives employers and organizations the opportunity to track and manage the safety of business travelers and employees. The risk management technology helps minimize risk wherever employees live, work and travel by generating real-time, targeted incident alerts pertinent to an organization’s traveler or business locations and geo-coded to the street level. Page says that “Travel Tracer builds on our service offerings and our dedication to provide clients with the highest level of innovative technologies and customer care by empowering our business customers to more easily manage their employees’ travel needs worldwide.” Among other features, travelers and their employers may access a situation map, which instantly visualizes their planned locations and itineraries, as well as incidents and emerging worldwide events in proximity to their destination.
But what about international business travelers who make off-platform bookings? Traxo, a corporate travel data management app, fixes this issue. “Traxo essentially collects traveler data, both inside and outside of company booking tools, and analyzes the data to provide travel managers a more comprehensive picture of how their clients travel.” So even if a business traveler independently books their flight outside of the company channel and then stays in home-sharing accommodations like Airbnb, the travel administrator can still monitor the trip in real-time. Traxo focuses on providing a 360-degree view of the traveler. Supplier direct bookings are a reality that corporate travel managers have to accept. With the Traxo tool, travel managers can pull up real-time information about their travelers in a list, timeline or map to help with triaging situations that arise, and they can reach out to travelers in danger.
Current technology enables geofencing, which allows a company to receive notifications when a traveler’s device enters or leaves virtual boundaries the company has set. For example, Concur’s Locate and Alert tool tracks an employee on a past, present and future timeline using their inputted itinerary information. For an extra layer of accuracy, travelers can choose to check-in using the mobile app. Travelers also receive alerts and messages instructing them to stay put or leave the area.
Current technologies allow travel managers to access pin-point data location on their employees; however, do these technologies take personal tracking too far?
Personal Privacy Concerns
It’s clear that itinerary information alone is not enough to satisfy the duty of care. At the outset, for employees who make bookings independently, their itinerary info might not be inputted in the system. But GPS tracking raises personal privacy concerns with international travelers.
As a frequent business traveler, Wolko tells us that she willingly agreed to update her company travel manager with her location on foreign business trips. “I had no qualms about privacy as I followed the T&E policy. I reported to the company travel agent to stay compliant. The only people who had access to my location were the travel agent and my boss. The travel agent could only disclose the information to a handful of authorized corporate staff as needed. They were not allowed to share with anyone not on the list.”
But for some employees, the additional step of GPS tracking via mobile devices feels like infringement. According to Wolko, “I would not agree to my employer tracking my personal device.”
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, “The right to privacy is not mentioned in the Constitution, but the Supreme Court has stated that several of the amendments create this right. The right to privacy is alluded to in the fourth amendment to the US constitution, which protects “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The Fourth Amendment prevents government agents (i.e. police) from searching your property without “probable cause” to believe that you have committed a crime. However, the Fourth Amendment does not apply to private citizens or companies. Thus, the question of real-time location tracking lies with ethical corporate culture decision-making and striking a balance between risk mitigation and personal privacy.
In many instances, GPS tracking would require travelers to opt-in by downloading an app to their personal phone and, understandably, many individuals are not comfortable with their employer tracking their personal device. Even installing tracking software on a company phone that detects whereabouts outside company hours can feel invasive. Although it’s meant for safety, initiating this draconian requirement turns one’s phone from a communication device to a convict ankle bracelet.
One alternative to constant location monitoring is twice-a day check-ins. Requiring an employee on an international assignment to contact a stateside agent once in the morning and once in the evening can add an extra layer of monitoring that’s less invasive than micro-chip level GPS tracking. But the downside is that if a sudden attack breaks out, or a tsunami hits, the communication chain is hours out of date.
The current best option to satisfy a company’s legal obligations as well as ethical privacy concerns is to equip employees with a panic button that activates GPS tracking. Panic Button, created by Amnesty International, acts as a mobile ‘distress signal’ which, once activated, sends three recipients an alert message and location update every five minutes. Rather than constant location tracking, Panic Button acts more like a fail-safe when a traveler recognizes that they are in danger. The Anvil Group, which specializes in travel risk management, also offers an SOS & Locate tool that users can deactivate at their discretion.
Combined with pre-trip planning to identify risks, proper monitoring of global events and a panic button for when emergency strikes, travel managers can maintain a steady lifeline to their employees in the field.
Balancing Duty and Privacy
Travel managers bear the burden of balancing their legal and social duty of care, along with the significant financial risks to the company, with their employee’s right to privacy.
If you run a global travel program, you can manage risk, but not eliminate it. Morals and ethics dictate implementing tactical safety strategies, rather than focusing on the legal obligation of avoiding lawsuits after the fact. From a bird’s-eye perspective, travel managers should view their role as upholding a duty rather than avoiding a legal liability. Best practices indicate that travel managers should avoid passive approaches, i.e., relying on credit card data to track last known location. Instead, travel managers should follow an approach that combines itinerary data with current technologies that monitor overseas location but do not overstep the boundaries of privacy.
David is a digital media attorney and the Editor in Chief at 30SecondsToFly. As an American expat living in Luxembourg, David feels closest to his higher self whilst traveling and expressing his gratitude for new eye-opening experiences through storytelling and filmmaking on his blog www.FarOutExpat.com