Duty of care – the cases you haven’t thought of

Posted: 30 May 2017

You may remember the stories about a dossier compiled by a British ex-intelligence chief purporting that the FSB (the Russian security service) had a video of Donald Trump cavorting with prostitutes in the Moscow Ritz Carlton in 2013.

Whether the report is true or false is not our concern but how business travellers can unwittingly put themselves in a vulnerable position is. The story taught us a new word – kompromat. In Russian it means compromising material, in English it’s blackmail.

Terrorist attacks have highlighted the importance of having a duty of care strategy, but their profile is high not because of their frequency but because so many people are affected at the same time in a dramatic way. One source puts the risk of dying in a terrorist attack as 1 in 20 million compared to a lifetime risk of dying in a car accident of 1 in 100. So ask yourself if you have a strategy in place that accounts for other possible scenarios like the following:

Sexual activity

Mary has been seconded to the Dubai office of the international financial services company for which she works. On the Thursday evening Mary and her workmates visit a bar to celebrate the start of a weekend. She makes eye contact with a tall, dark and handsome stranger and they proceed to get to know each other better on the beach but are interrupted by a guard and taken to a police station where it is discovered that Mary has a husband back home.

Extramarital sex is illegal in Dubai and if found guilty she could potentially face imprisonment, flogging, even stoning.

Sexual orientation

Chris and Nicky are both on a team that was sent to work on a company project in Saudi Arabia. The company knows the country has different rules for men and women but they are not concerned because they are both men. What their employer and workmates don’t know is that Chris and Nicky are more than a bromance.

Chris and Nicky know that homosexuality is officially illegal in Saudi Arabia but they’re also aware of a large and open gay culture so don’t hesitate when a local contact suggests they go to a gay party. The party is raided by the police and both men are arrested. Both men were unaware that public gatherings including parties, can be illegal in Saudi Arabia, without special permission being granted.

Ground transport

Three members of a European marketing team are asked to set up the company stand at a large trade exhibition in Las Vegas. They decide the most time and cost-efficient way to travel is to fly to Los Angeles and then drive a hire car across to Nevada. The driver falls asleep at the wheel and the car crashes with one passenger being killed and the driver and other passenger being seriously injured.

The family of the dead team member sue the company and the driver for negligence and compensation.

Other events that seem mundane but require companies to consider duty of care include mugging, blackmail, ‘Delhi belly’ and differing attitudes to women business travellers.

What to do: information, communication and contingency planning

People have a lot to absorb and a lot of adrenaline flowing when they are in a different culture, trying to accomplish a task for their company in a limited time so they’re more likely to take risks.

Most companies offer travellers support and information. The travel policy might specify whether people are allowed to drive directly after a 12-hour flight or how many company employees are allowed to ride in the same vehicle. Such guidelines might, or might not, have prevented the fatal car accident mentioned above; it certainly would have removed company liability.

It is the company’s responsibility to protect their employees’ health and safety and minimise their exposure to risk when they travel on business. That means you need to communicate relevant information about existing laws and threats and the process to follow in the event of any incident. Companies also need to ensure this information is communicated effectively: this could mean face-to-face, e-training or using app notifications instead of simply sharing links to information that travellers might not read.

Most companies direct their travellers before a trip to relevant country information such as that from the FCO in the UK, but you should consider supplementing any general fact sheet with content more targeted at your own employees such as feedback from colleagues who have made trips to the same destination or to websites such as 76crimes.com, which lists countries where homosexuality is illegal.

Policy, education and information are all necessary but they are not sufficient. In 2017 all your travellers will be inundated with information from many sources – apps, websites, news alerts, emails. It’s your job to work out how to communicate what travellers need to know to stay safe effectively.

President Trump has said that as a knowledgeable and experienced traveller he was aware that Russian hotel rooms are full of hidden cameras and microphones and he even warned his team to that effect. Do you?  

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