Duty of Care: What is it and why is it important?

AAA World Article

Duty of Care: What is it and why is it important?

Under Duty of Care business owners and executives have a moral and legal obligation to provide a standard of reasonable care for their employees. This also applies to employees that travel for business. For travel coordinators and managers, this means understanding that obligation and crafting a travel policy that supports it. Many companies rely on traveling employees to conduct a variety of business which places them in multiple time zones and outside of “normal” business hours. And often times, these employees are making their own reservations outside of their travel management company, which provides no visibility to their itinerary or whereabouts.

These situations can lead to both frustration and concern for traveler safety, especially in times of a crisis. So how can travel managers ensure their employees are accounted for and navigate duty of care at the same time? While AAA does not offer legal advice, we always recommend that companies have a detailed corporate travel policy in effect and ask employees to comply with the policy. Within that, we recommend that employers require travelers to book through their travel management company. In today’s uncertain travel climate, it’s more important than ever to be acutely aware of duty of care by putting extra measures like this in place to cover both the employee and the company.

Why it’s Important that Employees Follow Company Travel Policies

Assuming a company has a travel policy in place and has partnered with a travel management company, our Director of Operations, Beth Heisel, has this to say about directing employees to access the tools and support their travel management company (TMC) offers, “Explain to travelers that booking everything through their TMC is the safest thing to do especially in these uncertain times. If you can’t locate a traveler in an emergency, that traveler could be stuck. Or be forced to pay hundreds or thousands of extra dollars to extricate themselves from a dangerous or chaotic situation.”

When it comes to duty of care, employers need to be in control of their travelers’ information. From airline reservations, confirmation numbers, and hotel stays, employers need to have “eyes” on their traveling employees.

Tracking University Students Abroad During the Pandemic

AAA experienced this issue firsthand when a university client was in need of assistance during an international trip that occurred in the early stages of the current pandemic. The crisis resulted in sudden closures to countries and their borders, causing a major headache and scary situation for travelers. AAA worked quickly to get the university travelers back to the US. However, several students had booked their airfare outside of AAA and in doing so, were struggling to find flights. The university turned to AAA for help. Working closely with our airline partners, we were able to assist both the university clients and students to get them back to the US safe and sound, but it was a hard lesson for everyone involved.

“We’ve been reviewing and updating travel policies with clients since the pandemic began. And a lot of companies are now mandating their travelers use AAA for all bookings because they didn’t know where or how to reach employees who booked on their own,” says AAA Account Manager Michelle Creutzinger. “It really hit home for companies that this is not the time to be relaxed with travel policies.”

For all the distress the pandemic has caused, it provides a new perspective on duty of care. A traveler booking everything through AAA would be easily located in a crisis through our technology solution, which makes it easier for a company to rationalize mandating the exclusive use of their TMC.

What if Travelers Prefer to Book on Their Own?

Under Duty of Care provisions, it is a company’s responsibility to know where their employees are when they are traveling for work. Even if an employee books outside of the travel policy recommendations, a company is still required to provide a reasonable standard of care, which makes it even more important to set protocols and conditions if policies are not followed.

“I’ve seen companies that won’t reimburse employees for travel if the employees don’t use the TMC and follow travel policy rules,” says Heisel. “It might seem extreme to do that, however the legal ramifications in a crisis event could be devastating. And that’s where educating traveling employees comes into play.”

Heisel goes on to say, “Many times, employees think they are saving a few dollars by booking themselves or maybe they just find it more convenient to handle their own reservations. Explaining the true requirements of duty of care and the subsequent negative outcomes should a tragedy occur can really help employees understand and get on board.”

No Travel Policy? Now’s the Time to Consider One.

A travel plan and policy gives employees peace of mind in the event that a crisis occurs during their travels. If a company does not currently have a travel plan or policy in place, now is the best time to craft one, and AAA can help.

It’s hard to make good decisions under duress. “A client had an employee get very ill while traveling abroad. There was no travel policy, no insurance, and no plan for how to get the traveler home. The company incurred a huge expense and the employee underwent more stress than necessary at a time when they were in a health crisis,” explains Creutzinger.

Employees value knowing that their employer cares about them and has a plan in place for their safety and protection. Companies that have international travel, especially those that involve travel to high risk areas, benefit significantly from access to centralized data and additional international coverage.

If a company doesn’t have a travel policy in place, here are a few things they can do instead:

  • If traveling employees are booking their own travel, require them to provide their itinerary, flight numbers, hotel confirmation numbers, etc… to their manager prior to traveling. This will ensure an employer has all the information they need if reaching them is necessary.
  • Secure travel insurance and coverage for all employees who travel.
  • Educate employees on travel safety and what to do if they incur an unexpected event while traveling, like a stolen rental car, a lost or stolen passport, and what to do if they need to get home unexpectedly in times of crisis, like this recent pandemic.

At the end of the day, there are so many unknown variables that can occur when employees are on the road. Companies need to be prepared and get ahead of these situations by creating and maintaining a solid travel policy, and ensuring compliance. Equally as important is educating employees on why they must follow it so they understand its importance and how it protects them, and their employer, when they are traveling for business.

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