While the concept of corporate duty of care came into the spotlight in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, risk programs have used a variety of technology and processes to ensure their travelers are safe for years. Duty of care represents both the legal and fiduciary responsibility an organization has to its travelers when traveling on company business.
The legal aspect can get fuzzy and can be dependent on many factors including which State or Country the company is organized, the traveler’s proximity to his home office, and the nature of the risk involved in any particular case. The challenge risk managers and internal legal counsel face is that even small claims can result in a lot of work, expense, and company reputation damage. Most studies show that legal claims against companies cost $250,000 at minimum.
The fiduciary aspect of duty of care can also be somewhat unclear as this piece of a company’s duty of care solution is more reflective of corporate culture and the morality associated with the cost/benefit of doing everything possible to ensure the safety of the traveler.
Duty of Care Solutions
Prior to events of 9/11 many corporate travel duty of care programs relied on pre-trip reporting capabilities from an organization’s Travel Management Company (TMC). TMC’s provided what they called “Where’s My Traveler?” reporting that were hastily accessed in the event of an emergency. In this case, a traveler could be contacted immediately and depending on the situation, the TMC or the traveler’s company could come to assist in the appropriate manner. In many cases, we discovered that this process was cumbersome and at times suffered from significant issues in terms of the integrity of data that was found on these reports.
Travelers who book through their TMC and then make a change directly with the airline causes issues in many cases with TMC reporting capabilities. The traveler in this case has changed his flight but the TMC may not be updated in a timely way. The resulting duty of care failure means that the TMC has provided a report that shows inaccurate flight details. The same kind of issue may occur with hotel stays. Lastly, for those travelers who chose not to book through the approved TMC at all and run into a problem will receive no support at all from the company because they will have no record of the traveler’s whereabouts. While some may argue that a disregard for company policy that requires the use of the TMC provides a shield against litigation, this is not always the case. And from an ethical or fiduciary perspective many companies are more interested in their travelers’ well-being than arguing that the traveler was non-compliant.
After 9/11, the travel industry coalesced around more prevalent use of third party tools that provided better risk solutions for a company’s duty of care program. TMC’s hand off booking data to companies focused on risk management and the company received the benefit of real time traveler tracking, reporting, and instant two-way communication features that provided a better and more efficient layer of duty of care for organizations. Among multi-national organizations and for those companies who travel to global “hot spots”, many of these third party risk management companies provide everything from medical assistance to hostage negotiation and rescue, to real time proximity alerts based on the travelers’ whereabouts. In both the legal and fiduciary sense, companies need to assess their relative risk and culture as it relates to the ethical and moral responsibility it has to its travelers when integrating risk management tools to meet duty of care requirements.
The Impact of the Pandemic on Duty of Care Programs
As individual states, regions, and countries began shutting down and then re-opening at a varied pace, the need to understand travel rules became another aspect of duty of care for companies. Rules around travel including quarantines, testing, and now vaccinations have added a complex layer to corporate duty of care programs. Many TMC’s have created COVID-19 web portals for their clients to access for real time rules and regulations on travel requirements.
The Best Duty of Care Solutions for 2021
The best of duty of care solution varies by organization and should be reflective of an organization’s perception of potential legal risk and sense of morality in terms of keeping its travelers safe. An internal risk manager or knowledgeable independent consultant should consider the following:
- Is there inherent risk to my travelers based on our historical travel patterns?
- What is the relative risk to my travelers when traveling to generally safe destinations?
- What is my TMC’s protocol when responding to a crisis? Will the trip data be timely in the event of an emergency?
- How does my TMC handle gaps in data? What happens when my travelers book outside of the TMC channel?
Ultimately, a company’s duty of care program and the risk management tools used to manage the program become a business decision based on the relative risk to travelers and the company’s moral obligation to ensure safety. Like most things the business decision is made as a cost/benefit analysis with the value in the eye of the beholder.