Legal Duty of Care for the U.S. Mobile Workforce

Robert Quigley, Lauren Fuiman Cell, and Ted Boehm - Aug 01 2017
Published in: Ask the Experts

Increased emphasis on the duty of care and the idea that an employer is responsible for the health, safety, security, and well-being of its globally mobile employees has proved to be a daunting and scary concept for employers. The costs associated with failing to take on adequate duty-of-care responsibilities can be exorbitant and, in some cases, even threaten the existence of an employer. It’s imperative for you as an employer to implement some kind of travel risk management policy that will account for the risks your employees face abroad when they are either traveling or in a permanent job. There are certainly prevention costs associated with implementing a plan, such as development, compliance and training, insurance coverage, and vendor support. The general consensus, however, is that it is financially beneficial overall.

Though the task may seem daunting, if you take a step back, it’s relatively simple to develop and implement focusing on three core steps:

  1. Assess/Develop
  2. Implement/Communicate
  3. Control and Analyze

Your first task is to determine the locations to which your employees are assigned or travel for work, and then assess the health, safety, and security risks in those locations. You need to understand the various duty-of-care obligations and potential liabilities in each one.  You’ll then need to devise a strategy for dealing with the risks, which can include medical emergencies, terrorist events, civil unrest and demonstrations, natural disasters, power failures, cyberattacks, fire, violence, and infections. Keep in mind the varied resources in each country, which can range from minimal to abundant.

The next and perhaps most important task is to develop clear documentation outlining the company’s duty-of-care responsibilities and travel risk management policies and procedures, both for short-term and long-term travel. The main question for you to answer is how you can best keep your employees healthy, safe, and secure in all work locations.

Once policies and procedures are put into place, they should be communicated clearly and often in training sessions with all workers. This should occur prior to the trip—e.g., ensure that employees are appropriately prepared for travel before leaving; brief employees on political, security, and travel risks; educate employees on the hazards of the travel and/or assignment; and equip travelers with resources to help them stay safe and healthy. During the trip, know the employee’s itinerary, proactively communicate any changes in risks while the employee is on assignment, and know where your employees are at any given time. In the event an issue arises, having adequately trained and informed employees will be helpful in responding effectively to the issue and potentially evacuating the employee from the work location.

The final step is for you to ensure your employees are keeping up with their training and that you are evaluating whether any changes need to be made. Track and analyze data to keep constantly assessing the effectiveness of your plan. A crucial part of this final step is documentation, including maintenance and auditing.

The above information is excerpted from an August 2017 Mobility article.  See the full text for more information and a planning checklist.