The-Duty-of-Care-Obligation

The Duty of Care Obligation

Should a company be obligated to ensure employee well-being even if it is not legally required? Is non-mandated safety a corporate responsibility or simply an individual one?

Stepping away from any legal requirement, what about the moral and ethical obligation? Should a company be obligated to ensure employee well-being even if it is not legally required? Is non-mandated safety a corporate responsibility or simply an individual one? Successful companies realize that the responsibility is shared because ensuring employee safety makes business sense: healthy and safe workers keep the business running and keep costs down. And in today’s fast-to-react world, a company’s reputation (and stock price) could suffer if duty of care is ignored, or downplayed. Never has the phrase “word travels fast” been more accurate, especially when bad things happen.

The Duty of Care Obligation

Companies address employee safety, security and well-being in a number of ways, including establishing policies and protocols to ensure a safe workplace. These policies may range from the requirement to wear protective clothing to issuing key cards to secure company entrances. At some companies, safety is so top-of-mind, that every meeting begins with a review of safety protocols (such as the location of emergency exits, what to do in the event of an emergency, etc.). Other companies may take a more low-key approach, with only occasional reminders on pertinent policies. Regardless of frequency, this focus on employee safety is often referred to as duty of care.

Corporate mobility’s role in the duty of care equation is unique. While many companies extend their safety policies beyond the physical workplace to include protocols while away from the office (such as no texting while driving on company business), the application of duty of care as it relates to relocation/mobility is often secondary. And yet, mobile employees (and their families) are perhaps the most vulnerable during a relocation/assignment.

When the need for duty of care protocols is recognized in mobility, it is often as it relates to international assignments. Companies acknowledge the potential “fish out of water” risk of sending assignees to another country. Any number of dangers may be present: some man-made, some natural. Strategies for addressing these dangers may exist as part of a company’s global mobility and/or travel program.

However, duty of care protocols may be missing from domestic mobility programs (i.e. mobility within any one country). The common perception is that the employee will be able to navigate the dangers of his/her resident country. And yet, employees moving domestically may actually be less equipped to deal with emergencies than those on a global assignment simply due to lack of preparation. Because of this, companies should apply the same (or similar) duty of care strategies to domestic mobility programs as exist for global mobility.

Strategies for Success

Here are a few strategies for duty of care success that will help keep mobile employees and their families safe and healthy:

1) Communication. A vital element to the success of duty of care, communication should include not only clear written policies, protocols and guidelines, but security briefings for the employee and family, as well as alert systems, such as texts, voicemails and emails. While security briefings may include common sense recommendations such as secure valuables in your car trunk, do not walk alone at night and don’t wear flashy jewelry, they should also include location specific information. For example, the employee may need to know whether the area around the airport is safe, or whether to order a cab in advance of arrival.

Ensure that communication is occurring in both directions – from the company to the employee and from the employee to the company. Consider assigning the mobile employee with a safety contact with whom simple messages such as “have you arrived?” and “arrived safely” can be exchanged. Provide the safety contact with resources and tools so he/she can escalate issues as needed while the employee is out of pocket. Another communication tool that can be deployed is a 24/7 emergency hotline that can be tapped when immediate help is needed. Once an emergency occurs, ensure that company communication continues by following up with the employee, even after the crisis has passed – silence is not golden at this time!

2) Plan ahead. Determine emergency protocols. This easier-said-than-done strategy may require cooperation between internal departments and/or external vendors such as a travel provider or a third party medical and emergency travel security services firm. Identify and empower key internal decision makers who can implement emergency protocols and approve expenses to eliminate any lag time. If possible, determine evacuation locations in advance of need.

Some assignment locations are known to be high risk, so ensure security briefings, the mobility and safety policies, and any required training are aligned. Depending on the location, training may need to include cultural training, self-defense lessons/tactics, and even what to do in the event of a hijacking. Be aware that some training can be conducted online or via web seminar, but certain training may need to be face-to-face. Include the spouse/partner and family, as needed and appropriate.

3) Assess. Ideally, identify potential issues in advance of the relocation or assignment. While an advance assessment may not be possible in all circumstances, evaluate the situation as soon as possible. This risk assessment should include location, the employee’s personal situation, and the environment (political, environmental, social, etc.). Flag high risk circumstances and determine a potential action plan.

4) Know where they are. While this strategy has shades of Big Brother, knowing the location of your employees can be critical in the event of an emergency. Your travel provider may be able to assist, but depending on the size of your organization, other tracking methods may be practical/possible, such as self-reporting, an external traveler tracking system, or even the GPS on the employee’s phone. Technology is constantly evolving, so tomorrow’s solution may look different from current offerings. Be aware that this location tracking strategy requires a delicate balance between the employee’s right to privacy and the company’s need to know.

5) Program elements. Ensure overall mobility program elements promote safety. This may be as simple as allowing sufficient time for the final trip in a domestic move. Companies will sometimes limit final move travel time to a set number of days which can be problematic for longer distances, bad weather, or if flight delays are encountered. From a global perspective, consider safety program elements such as housing security assessments, and/or an armored car and driver, or even a bodyguard. Adjust the mobility program as needed to avoid any exception-related delays.

6) Anticipate the consequences. Emergencies usually lead to business disruption. Some emergencies are flashes in the pan: over quickly. Others can impact businesses for a prolonged period. Have a business continuity plan ready, which needs to be comprehensive enough to address issues that can arise from global and domestic mobility. Consider specific plans for certain high-risk locations or areas with a high concentration of employees/assignees. Partner with other departments to ensure any mobility-related gaps are covered. 

7) Partner. Duty of care is a shared responsibility and requires the use of many resources. Partnering with other internal departments is key, as stated previously. A third-party emergency medical and travel safety firm and the company’s travel provider can provide important services. However, Cornerstone, as your global relocation management company, may be one of your most important partners in the duty of care spectrum. As we work with your employees, our consultants and account director can alert you to circumstances and potential issues in advance. We can then provide individual strategies and solutions for the affected employee, thereby possibly preempting a crisis. 

Wrinkles

Much has been written about the changing face of mobility – lower levels of support and more self-service. This lower level of support does impact a company’s duty of care obligations by making them harder to implement. Companies may state that employees wish to be more independent – and thus the duty of care requirement is negated, but it’s just the opposite: the duty of care obligation remains. The strategies for success outlined above still apply, but may require creativity in their application. For example, companies may need to limit vendors that can be used in self-service mobility to help ensure employee safety and limit the company’s overall liability.

Next Steps

It is important for global mobility to be an active participant regarding duty of care, with the goal of influencing the company’s attitudes and processes as they relate to employee safety. Legal requirements must be met, but the moral and ethical obligation to ensure the well-being and safety of mobile employees and their families cannot be ignored. Recent emergencies have included employees who have been stopped at a border and denied entry due to unanticipated governmental rule changes. Companies even had to assist employees who were suddenly stuck because they were not allowed to board a connecting flight in a different country due to those same rule changes. Civil unrest, terrorist attacks, and weather events are happening daily. Awareness of the importance of duty of care is the first step; review of current protocols and procedures is the next one. Corporate culture can play a role in the success of duty of care programs, but the strategies outlined above can help reach the ultimate goal of the health and safety of all employees.

Cornerstone Relocation Group Logo