Let’s face it: Business travel can be stressful. You have a lot to worry about: cramming your best suit and toiletries into a tiny carry-on; making last-minute changes to your slide deck on a flight that has spotty Wi-Fi; missed connections; communicating to a cab driver who speaks a different language; missing your kid’s soccer game. You’ve got enough to worry about without wondering what happens if you get sick or injured on the road. In this article, we’ll present you with tips for planning ahead; ideas for what to do in case disaster does strike when you’re on the road; as well as some tips to understand your rights if you do get injured on your trip.
Planning Ahead for Potential Injuries or Illness
One of the first things you should do before you head off on a business trip is to plan ahead by collecting information about emergency resources and physicians, in case you get sick or injured. Sound like overkill? Especially given that you also have to prep a presentation and pack? Maybe, but it is much better to be prepared than to be caught off guard when something bad happens. Some tips to consider:
- Find in-network providers in the area you are traveling to. Health insurance coverage is often very limited when you leave the city in which you work, so make sure you find hospitals and physicians that are covered. Call your health insurance company, or use the easy “Find a Doctor” online tool that many major insurance companies like United, Aetna, and Cigna have. You can easily search by zip code. Just in case, consider finding at least one covered hospital, one covered primary care physician, and likely an Urgent Care facility. (Let’s be honest. Most of us aren’t going to go through the trouble of doing this research in advance, unless maybe we travel to the same spot regularly. If you are too busy to prepare ahead, then make sure, at the very least, that if something happens during your trip, you check your coverage before you head off to see a physician. Costs can become enormous if you visit a facility that is not covered under your employer-provided health insurance plan.)
- Locate the closest U.S. Embassy or Consulate in advance. If your business travel brings you abroad, the CDC notes that personnel at U.S. Embassies and Consulates are available 24/7 for emergency assistance. Keep these numbers with you: 1-888-407-4747 (if calling from the U.S. or Canada) or 00 1 202-501-4444 (if calling from overseas). You can find your local Embassy at the Website of U.S. Embassies, Consulates, and Diplomatic Missions. You will only need to reach out to these resources in the case of an emergency, but it’s good to know they are available to you 24/7. They can help you find medical resources and contact your family or employer to alert them of issues. They can also arrange medical evacuation, but they do not cover the cost.
- Find out if your company has travel health insurance coverage. Sometimes, your own health insurance will cover you decently well when you are traveling—especially if you are traveling within the U.S. Some companies, too, have travel health insurance coverage. If you are part of a larger company that works with a Travel Management Company, they may attach travel insurance to your bookings. If not, though, and you tend to get sick often, consider getting travel insurance. There are three main types of travel health insurance, according to CNN’s Katia Hetter. The first is for travel cancellation, which allows you to cancel in advance of some medical problems. Second, for foreign travel, there is supplemental health insurance, which can pay medical costs overseas, and third, there is medical evaluation insurance for transporting you out for appropriate treatment. You’ll want to be more wary about travel insurance if you have a pre-existing condition of some sort.
- Follow these tips for preventing illness. While you can’t do much to protect yourself from a future clumsy fall, you can certainly plan ahead for a potential work trip illness through some prevention strategies. Sure, we all know we need to get sleep and take our vitamins, but some experts offer some more surprising tips:
- Have some tea – Murray Grossan, an Ear Nose and Throat Specialist tells Health.com that drinking hot black or green tea with lemon and honey can work wonders. Drinking and breathing in steam stimulates the hair follicles in the nose—“to move out germs more efficiently,” according to Grossan. He notes that honey is anti-bacterial.
- Grab some essential oils – Physician Frank Lipman suggests that lavender essential oil is a natural hand sanitizer to use on the go when you want to avoid germs.
- Enjoy some extra garlic – Amy Rothenberg, ND, tells Prevention magazine that a compound in garlic is excellent for fighting off infections. Cooking with garlic, apparently, can boost your immune system.
- Carry around your own pen – How many times have you shared a pen during a business trip? Kim Okochi, whose son is immune-compromised, makes sure to carry her own pen to the bank, grocery store, and other places, to avoid the spread of germs. On that note, wash your hands! It seems obvious enough, but given that a recent study showed 15% of people observed in public bathrooms did not wash their hands, it’s worth mentioning.
- Soak in some sun – Vitamin D (produced in your skin when you are exposed to sunlight) has been proven to activate your body’s immune defenses, so maybe type up that next proposal on your laptop outdoors.
- Pack well. Don’t forget medications that you may need in order to function well on the job. Also, don’t forget your health insurance cards and information about any supplemental insurance purchases.
- Make intelligent choices about travel booking. If you are someone who is prone to illness, you might want to pursue booking with providers that are more flexible. For example, look for airlines with low change fees or low last-minute booking fees. A relatively recent list of airline fees available on Airfarewatchdog, for example, provides fees for a variety of airlines. Frontier appears to have lower non-refundable ticket change fees compared to some other airlines. Jet Blue’s same day change fee is only $50, and standing by for one flight prior is free. This kind of flexibility allows you to make last-minute changes, but make sure you talk to accounting or your company’s travel manager to avoid conflicting with their established vendor deals.
The Doctor Is In: Taking Care of Yourself During Your Work Trip
Maybe you listened to us and prepared ahead of time for a potential problem, or maybe you are already on a work trip—you just now Googled what to do in event of an injury, and scrolled straight past the “planning ahead” section of this article to figure out what to do now that you’ve got a cold right before your big morning meeting. Perhaps, instead, you’ve been soaking in the sun and consuming raw garlic, and you still somehow managed to get sick right in the midst of an important work trip. We get it. What do you do now?
Your next step is going to differ significantly depending on what ailment you are actually suffering from. If you are bleeding profusely, we sincerely hope you are on your way to the E.R. right now. If you have a more moderate ailment, your first step might be to figure out if you need to see a physician or just wait it out.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains a list of situations in which you should seek medical attention right away. These include (we’re getting a little graphic here) if you (1) have diarrhea and also have a fever above 102 degrees Fahrenheit, (2) if you get flu-like symptoms in a malaria risk area, (3) have been bitten or scratched by an animal, or (4) have been in a car accident.
If you need to see a physician, call down to the front desk. Many hotels keep a list of local doctors and urgent care facilities handy. You can always look this up online, but the hotel staff might give you the scoop on which facilities tend to have more of a wait, etc. Additionally, Caroline Eubanks, who used to travel to trade shows for work, tells us that “some hotels, like Loews, have a car service included for guests.” “They can take you to the doctor’s office or pharmacy,” Eubanks notes. If you did your homework, you can check to make sure the facilities are covered by your insurance quickly before you head off. Some hotels even have doctors who will do house calls, although that can get expensive.
Things can get a bit trickier if your work trip has taken you abroad. Consider checking out The International Society of Travel Medicine, a group with the goal of promoting healthy travel worldwide. Among their resources is a list of travel clinics around the world. Travelers can also use World Hospital Search to find an accredited hospital nearby.
If you seek out a physician, follow doctors’ orders to a tee. It may not be as easy to get in touch with your temporary physician once you leave his or her office, so take careful note of the instructions you are provided. It may also be difficult to transition to your physician back home if you don’t keep track of what happened to you on the road and what the physician prescribed as a remedy. If you start feeling better while you are still on the road, be especially careful with medication instructions. For example, take it easy on the alcohol if you are taking a drug that can cause a bad reaction.
If you decide that your illness or injury does not warrant a trip to the doctor, make sure to get plenty of rest, eat healthy, take vitamins, and limit alcohol consumption. This can be simple advice if you are at home, but if you are also worried about attending to work trip obligations, you can easily forget to take care of yourself. Make sure to wash your hands frequently if you venture out; if your immune system is already weakened, you’re likely to get another illness, and you also want to avoid spreading your current illness, especially to prospective clients!
Dealing with the Post-Doctor Blues
If you are ill, you might also want to consider delaying your travel plans. As much as you may want to get home quickly, Phyllis Kozarsky, a travel health consultant for the CDC, suggests that traveling may cause your illness to last longer. Some airlines will waive cancellation and change fees in the case of very serious medical illnesses, especially if you have proof from a physician. So, if you are seriously injured or your illness goes beyond a traditional cold, don’t hesitate to be persistent with your airline, or ask your company’s TMC to advocate on your behalf.
Take care of yourself, first. Only then can you start thinking about your clients or business prospects. How are you going to get work done if you can’t leave the hotel room? The best approach is to be honest. It’s highly unlikely that the people you are meeting with want to get sick, so give them a heads up as soon as possible. Offer to Skype into a meeting instead, if you are well enough to participate. If your airline lets you change your flight, offer to reschedule for a few days later when you are feeling better. Keep in touch with your boss, just in case they can send someone as a replacement, or work directly with the client over the phone. If you traveled with a work colleague, prep him or her over the phone and offer to return the favor later. Ultimately, the decisions you make will depend on the extent of your illness or injury, but taking care of yourself and staying honest with stakeholders can go a long way.
Knowing Your Rights: The Legalities of Business Travel and Your Health
Getting sick or injured on a work trip can be awful, and that sick feeling may return when you receive your bills. All of your costs may not be covered, especially if you travel internationally. So, it is important to understand your rights.
Ed Marsh, the Founder of Consilium Global Business Advisors, LLC, tells us that the issue of what to do when an incident occurs on a work trip is often overlooked, “and much more complex when you cross borders.” He says that in his experience, “car accidents are the most common issue (aside from general GI illness),” and repatriation can cost “$100K or more for special medical flights when the condition requires stabilization and care en-route and a standard airplane seat won’t work.” He notes that workers comp often does not cover issues outside the U.S., and health insurance “will certainly have a complex set of considerations.”
To deal with these issues, Chris Johnston, an attorney who handles travel injury cases, recommended to us that his top tip for business travelers who get injured or ill on the road is to “take as many notes and pictures as possible. While this is a good practice anytime someone gets hurt, being injured in an unfamiliar (often distant) location adds many hurdles.” As he notes, a person injured in a different state may not remember the names of establishments where an incident occurred or the witnesses. “Document, document, document!” Johnston argues. It’s also a good idea to retain receipts for any treatments you paid for while traveling. You may receive reimbursement from your health insurance company, or your employer may be liable under workman’s comp.
Both Johnston and Marsh are circling around important points—duty of care and workers’ compensation. Often, Johnston noted, workers compensation is typically primary healthcare when someone is injured on the job. Yet, business travelers should know their rights.
With regard to workman’s compensation, OSHA defines a work-related injury as any injury that occurs when an employee is on travel status and engaged in work activities “in the interest of the employer,” according to Travis Rhoden, contributing writer for Bizjournals.com. He notes that OSHA says work-related activities start as soon as the employee leaves home, unless the employee first reports to the office, in which case travel status begins when the employee leaves the office to start his or her trip. “Travel status” commences when the employee returns to the point of origin (home or office), which means that if an employee was injured on the way home from the airport, that could still be considered work-related—even if the employee was not scheduled to work that day.
However, it is important to note that OSHA has regulations arguing that injuries or illnesses are not work-related if they happen during a personal detour from a “reasonably direct route of travel,” such as a personal side trip. In fact, in our own research, we found that the OSHA Regulation Standards include a lot of exceptions to recordable incidents. For example, if an employee’s injury or illness involves “signs or symptoms that surface at work but result solely from a non-work-related event or exposure,” the incident is not recorded as work-related. It is important for employees to understand these issues and potentially discuss them with HR before they travel for work.
Also, informing yourself about your company’s specific policies as to what activities are considered work-related is important. For example, some employers include rules, such as not using mobile devices while driving in a rental car. Make sure you are always acting within the scope of these policies or you won’t be covered in the event of an accident. A particularly harrowing incident is described by Stephanie Goldberg, a writer for a business insurance magazine. She describes a case in which a Texas appellate court ruled that an employee, Ron Pinkus, “was not within the course and scope of his employment because he was driving to meet his son for dinner” at the time he got into a car accident, which ultimately killed him. Issues like these drive home the importance of understanding your company’s policies and knowing your rights.
Duty of care, on the other hand, is also an important concept for business travelers to understand. 30SecondsToFly Editor in Chief, Dave Braun, defines duty of care as such: “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.” According to our source, Ed Marsh, a proper duty of care program should include policies to mitigate risks and uncertainty, training on situation awareness, and appropriate insurance products (such as “GlobalRescue, which provides local medical stabilization and advice, evacuation, and security assistance).” Any business traveler needs to know that the company has a duty of care for the employee and should inform him or herself of the company’s policies prior to traveling.
Being Your Own Best Advocate When Business Trip Illnesses Occur
Ultimately, the question to ask is not so much, “What do I do now that I’ve gotten sick or injured in the middle of a business trip?” The question is “how do I prepare for getting sick or injured on a work trip?” In other words, it’s all in the planning. Know your rights; know your company’s policies (and follow them); and prep through proper health regimens, checking for covered providers, and asking the right questions. Planning ahead means that when the time comes for an injury or illness to strike, you can focus on what’s most important: taking care of yourself (and then hopefully taking care of your clients as best you can).
Jenna teaches college-level writing courses at the University of New Haven, and she regularly freelances for 30SecondsToFly. When she’s not writing or teaching, she can be found traveling, running after her toddler, and/or enjoying some mac & cheese.