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Safety and security for business travellers: a legal and moral imperative for Canadian employers

When it comes to employee travel, the risk landscape is changing for Canadian employers. The nature and extent of security and safety risks faced by today’s business traveller are expanding, and conditions on the ground for international travellers are becoming more unpredictable. In parallel with these changes, we are witnessing a tidal wave of new occupational health and safety statutes and regulations aimed at preventing work-related violence, including recent examples in Ontario, Manitoba and Newfoundland.

Overall, this challenging and evolving risk landscape places a greater onus on employers to take all reasonable steps to safeguard business travellers. Failure to adequately protect travelling workers can have serious consequences for employers, including harm to staff, legal liability, operational disruption and damage to business reputation.

Against this dynamic backdrop, it is hardly surprising that when it comes to forming a travel safety and security strategy and developing associated plans, many organizations are unsure of where to begin.

Nature of the problem

Globally, we are facing what some industry observers have termed a “new normal” when it comes to travel-related risks. Hardly a day goes by without troubling accounts in the media about:

  • Disruptive events, such as medical outbreaks, civil unrest, severe weather or earthquakes
  • Political instability, often in countries that were previously thought to be safe
  • Increases in organized crime in some parts of the world
  • Violence against unsuspecting travellers who end up being in the wrong place at the wrong time

In its whitepaper, C’est la vie? A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Travel Risk Management Program, international travel management consulting firm Advito aptly sums up the current state of affairs:

Travel is inherently risky because it places employees in unfamiliar and/or disadvantageous environments. If travelers come to harm, their employers face potentially severe consequences both legally and financially, as well as to their reputation. What is more, risks will continue to grow as companies increasingly globalize their operations. In spite of this increased exposure, organizations typically fail to start actively managing travel-related risk until a serious incident affects one of their travelers.

Challenging the status quo

Conventional wisdom within many organizations suggests that employee group benefits plans adequately address travel safety and security, and only travel to unsafe places is deserving of any special consideration. For at least three reasons, these widely held views have become problematic:

  1. Travel and extended health care insurance coverage provided within most group benefits plans does not adequately address the full range of travel-related risks.
  2. It is becoming increasingly difficult to delineate between safe and unsafe destinations at any given time.
  3. Duty of care and OHS legal compliance requirements have progressed to the stage where a proactive, integrated approach is essential to effectively manage the risk.

The limitations of group benefits and insurance plans

Most organizations provide travelling employees with a level of protection through group benefits plans, which incorporate some form of travel and extended health care insurance. While these plans serve a valid purpose and provide an essential baseline of support, they often fall short of addressing the full range of travel safety and security requirements.

Basic insurance products are reactive (by design); they normally do little to support risk identification, risk assessment and operational risk management. When it comes to international travel, group benefits and insurance plans often provide insufficient or incomplete coverage. In all cases, insurance products should form only one part of a larger, integrated travel risk management (TRM) program.

The authors of the Advito whitepaper offer the following perspective:

Travel insurance is often purchased without the attention it merits. It is dangerous to buy on price alone. Whoever is responsible for buying insurance needs to be aware of the TRM program. In particular, they should learn from the travel manager which destinations the organization’s travelers are likely to visit. It is strongly advised to avoid policies that exclude acts of terrorism, exclude specified destinations [or] limit cover.

An increasing number of organizations are enhancing employee travel safety by topping up traditional insurance plans with enhanced security and medical assistance services available through a travel assistance provider. Security and medical assistance plans offer a high degree of reassurance to employees and ensure that they have advanced protection. These plans also provide significant risk management benefits to employers in the form of addressing OHS legal and duty of care compliance requirements.

Locations once deemed to be safe are increasingly becoming unsafe

The boundary between safe and unsafe places is becoming increasingly blurred. As one travel security expert noted in a September 8, 2011, article in TravelMarket Report:

Even if you only have travellers going to so-called safe places—New Zealand, Japan, Oslo—things can happen to them. You’re not off the hook just because your travelers don’t go to war zones or other places that are obviously risky.

In support of this worldview are findings from the 5th Annual Global Peace Index. Each year the Economist Intelligence Unit and Institute for Economics and Peace rank 153 of the world’s countries according to ongoing domestic and international conflict, population safety and security in society. The groups use 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators to gauge the level of peace and stability within each country. An excerpt showing the rankings of a small number of countries is shown below.

Rank

Country

Score

8

Canada

1.355

60

Bosnia

1.893

61

Sierra Leone

1.904

68

Indonesia

1.979

74

Brazil

2.040

82

United States

2.063

152

Iraq

3.296

Not surprisingly, Canada ranks as one of the safest and most peaceful countries in the Index. Perhaps the most thought-provoking finding is the 82nd place ranking of the United States, by far, the most common international destination for Canadian business travellers. To put this in context, consider that Brazil, a county with widespread organized crime problems, is ranked 74th, and ethnically divided and transitionally ruled Bosnia-Herzegovina ranks at 60th.

As a responsible employer, would you send an employee to Bosnia without any travel safety guidance? How about sending someone to Sierra Leone on company business and expecting them to fend for themselves? Yet Canadian employers routinely send business travellers into the US (and other foreign destinations) with no security guidance, no safety training and no plan if they get into trouble.

Expanding legal compliance requirements

There are two primary categories of legal risk associated with business travel:

  1. Tort liability (failing to meet a common law standard of care), and
  2. Statutory and/or regulatory non-compliance (failure to comply with regulatory or statutory provisions).

In the context of tort liability, duty of care is defined as a legal obligation imposed on an organization requiring that it exercise due diligence in taking all reasonable steps to protect travelling employees from foreseeable harm. Dr. Lisbeth Claus, in her whitepaper, Duty of Care of Employers for Protecting International Assignees, their Dependents, and International Business Travelers, identifies the nexus between business travel and employer duty of care:

Business travel is increasing in range and frequency, with the need to seek new markets and lower production costs in ever more remote places. This exposes both employees and employers to greater risks. Away from familiar surroundings, employees may encounter precarious environments, presenting increased and unfamiliar threats to their health, safety, and security. This heightens the corporate liability of employers, who have a legal, fiduciary, and moral Duty of Care for their employees.

In a number of organizations, travel risk management seems to be a strategic blind spot. In a 2010 research study of 163 large (mainly Fortune 500) organizations spearheaded by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, respondents held a common belief that insurance coverage alone was adequate to address travel-related risks. The key research findings were succinctly characterized in a BusinessTravelNews article, Report: Many Organizations Lax on Travel Safety and Security:

Many large organizations fret more over travel costs than traveler security, neglect safety considerations when holding events, don’t train employees traveling to high-risk locales and generally don’t fulfill duty of care obligations.

Surprisingly, while many employers prioritize employee health and safety at primary fixed workplaces, it is all too often the case that travelling workers who are exposed to unfamiliar risks outside of the primary work location are not afforded a similar level of protection. Sadly, it often takes a serious safety or security incident to bring the required attention and resources to manage travel-related risks.

The authors of the Advito whitepaper report that an “organizations’ duty of care towards employees is expected to become increasingly enshrined in punitive legislation.”  This forecast has proven to be particularly accurate in the Canadian context. Five jurisdictions have enacted or expanded workplace violence laws across the country since 2007 (see table below).

Jurisdiction

Year

Statute or regulation

Nova Scotia

2007

Occupational Health and Safety Act

Section 82, Regulation 209/2007

Federal

2008

Occupational Health and Safety Regulations

Part XX, ‘Violence Prevention in the Workplace’

Newfoundland

2009

Occupational Health and Safety Regulation

Part III, Sections 22-24

Ontario

2010

Occupational Health and Safety Amendment Act

‘Violence and Harassment in the Workplace’

Manitoba

2011

The Workplace Safety and Health Regulation

Amendment – Regulation 107/2011

It would be fair to say that managing the risk of violence against business travellers has become a legal and moral imperative in Canada. The findings of the Global Peace Index, increasing international travel risks, and expanding OHS legal compliance requirements should be recognized as harbingers of a new era in which organizations view employee travel safety as a key component of corporate social responsibility and enterprise risk management.

Keep an eye out in the new year for more on the topic of international employee travel and the associated risks, including several legal myths employers should understand, and tips for preparing a travel risk management program.

David Hyde
David Hyde & Associates

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David Hyde

Security and business risk consultant at David Hyde and Associates
David Hyde, M.Sc, CPC is a security and business risk consultant, author and educator with 26 years of broad-based leadership experience. He is principal consultant with David Hyde and Associates and in this role is a trusted advisor to a number of Canada’s top corporations on operational and reputational due diligence matters. Read more
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