The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) estimates that $1.33 trillion was spent on business travel in 2017 alone. And AIRINC’s most recent Mobility Outlook Survey (2018) reports that 54 percent of companies anticipate an increased demand for cross-border mobility this year. In addition to a higher number of business travelers, there is also a greater variety in length and scope of business travel, as well as in type of destinations — high-risk destinations are increasingly common, making the issue of risk mitigation ever more important. So, how do you mitigate the risks linked to international travelers/assignees? What are your responsibilities and liabilities as an employer, and how can you build a comprehensive program that is both manageable and flexible?

Two Concepts You’ve Probably Heard of: Travel Risk Mitigation and Duty of Care

Let’s start by clarifying a couple of the concepts at play: Duty of Care and Travel Risk Management. The two are often interchanged, but they are not the same. Duty of care is the moral and legal obligation a company has to do what it can to ensure the safety of its employees. Travel risk management is the action a company takes to provide the duty of care.

There is no global law for travel risk management. However, many countries have policies in place that regulate corporate international travel. The United Kingdom, for example, passed the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act of 2007. It imposes criminal liability on corporations where there is a gross breach of duty of care that results in the death of a person, such as an employee, person at a worksite, or traveler. 

Many European countries, as well as Australia and the US, have varying degrees of legislation in place. Understanding the local laws may not always give a precise answer to what is expected in order to fulfill your duty of care. However, being aware of what the laws are is a good place to start when considering your course of action.

Evaluating Risk and Deciding Course of Action

When evaluating exposure to risk, there is a tendency to consider the extremes — high-risk destinations, earthquakes, and terrorist attacks, while overlooking everyday risks such as medical emergencies or car accidents. An example given at a recent global travel risk forum highlighted something as simple as having to drive a car on the wrong side of the road from what you are used to after an overnight flight — a common occurrence for business travelers to the UK and Japan. Neither of these two destinations is typically associated with high risk, yet it’s easy to see how a traveler is vulnerable. In this instance, a policy allowing employees to use a car service could serve as a risk minimizer.

No company will be able to fully protect itself from liability, nor be able to completely protect the safety of its employees. However, careful consideration of risks and thoughtful implementation of risk mitigation strategies can minimize exposure for the company and employee alike.

The Most Powerful Risk Mitigation Tool of All — Cultural Adaptation Training

You can’t really talk about risk mitigation without discussing the component of cultural adaptation training as a way to minimize risk. Being aware of the customs, dress code, social habits and political climate of the destination country is one of the most powerful tools available to keep employees safe. Several of the speakers at the global travel risk forum stressed the importance of combining a deeper cultural knowledge of a host country with a common-sense training program for the employee. 

A phrase that came up often was “mistake of assumption” — meaning there is a risk in heading abroad thinking that everything works the way it does back home. International travelers/assignees are often already at a disadvantage with language barriers and unfamiliar surroundings — the “mistake of assumption” becomes yet another liability. 

In addition to having an intercultural support program to reduce the risks associated with assumption, it’s also crucial for the employee, and accompanying family members, to have easy and ongoing access to information such as company safety procedures, and chains of communication in case of emergencies. 

Breaking Down the Steps to Building a Risk Mitigation Program

While different companies have different needs, there is still a process to go through when building and maintaining a risk mitigation program:

  • Determine ownership of the various parts of the program.
  • Identify, evaluate and understand the risks. 
  • Develop appropriate policies for the identified risks. 
  • Determine how to fulfill duty of care based on identified risks. Will you require outside providers for training programs, what kind of insurance do you need to purchase, etc?
  • Implement training programs; educate and communicate. Make sure your organization’s policies and plans of action are known and understood by all affected parties. 
  • Monitor locations actively to stay up to date on what is going on in the country. Knowing where employees are during a crisis, for example, is critical to mitigating risk. There are assistance companies and travel management companies that offer programs allowing companies to compile and track travel itineraries for real-time data of all employees worldwide. 
  • Evaluate effectiveness of program. There is often a gap in information delivery by the company and information absorption by the employee. As is typically the case with support programs, regular evaluation and subsequent adjustments are recommended.

Mitigating risk for international business travelers/assignees is not a one-solution-fits-all proposition. What is universal however is the ultimate goal: minimizing employees’ exposure to risk, while fulfilling your company’s duty of care. 

By: Felicia Shermis


The HR Director


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