Corporate travel is an essential component of doing business, but the obstacles to travel have never been bigger or more difficult to navigate.
Global Rescue and The Ment Law Group hosted a webinar detailing travel risks for businesses of all sizes. Dave Leopold, director of enterprise sales at Global Rescue, and Jeff Ment, managing partner of The Ment Law Group, answered a variety of attendee questions about how to protect employees and how companies can meet the legal duty of care.
Here’s a sampling of questions and answers from this informative session on business travel in today’s world.
Global Rescue: How would you define duty of care, and why do companies of all sizes need to have a plan for this?
The Ment Law Group: Duty of care means an organization has an obligation under the law to take reasonable care under certain circumstances. This covers travel, traveling employees and affinity group travel sponsored by corporations, companies or schools. Duty of care really means acting reasonably as a reasonably prudent person or company should act under the circumstances, taking the circumstances on an individual basis. What might be reasonable for travel to Miami, might not be the same reasonable travel to Dubai.
[Related Reading: Legal Duty of Care Report]
Global Rescue: What has changed most in regards to duty of care from pre-COVID to now?
The Ment Law Group: Duty of care is an evolving phrase. What was duty of care changes with the times — duty of care today is different than duty of care three years ago when we weren’t thinking about COVID. Now duty of care encompasses all of these COVID-related things, such as procuring testing kits if workers are being sent to remote locations. Duty of care has to evolve with the times, because it’s not just locked in stone that this is “duty of care.”
Companies need to dust off the plans because the old plans aren’t good enough anymore. The new plans have to happen because the world has changed. And there’s nobody in the world that doesn’t understand that the world has changed.
Global Rescue: How does duty of care relate to International Organization for Standardization (ISO) compliance?
The Ment Law Group: Duty of care, and how people act, has always been kind of “beauty in the eye of the beholder.” What you and I think might be the duty of care might be different from what somebody else thinks the duty of care is.
ISO seeks to standardize things. Companies now have something to look at and check off the box for the ISO provision for duty of care. It talks about the health and safety of employees when traveling and being prepared for the risk always present in travel.
The first question is: Is there risk? The second question: Can you eliminate the risk? If you cannot eliminate the risk, what can you do to lessen or lower the risk?
That’s where companies like Global Rescue, lawyers and insurance companies come into play, because the risk is always present in travel. So, when you get to the first crossroad, it is the choice of no risk or risk.
Then we go to the next intersection: “How do we deal with the risk?” The ISO standard is really a good way to be able to tell your corporate officer or your risk manager you’ve minimized the risk that cannot be wiped out. Companies will have the mindset of “Okay, this is the standard, it’s a metric, we can see it, and we can understand how to use it, and we can meet the requirements.”
Global Rescue: If a company is working on their duty of care, what departments or titles need to be involved?
The Ment Law Group: It depends on the size of the company. In some companies, one person wears five hats and, in others, there are five different people with five different hats.
It’s typically going to be a combination of people, including the travel planner (who is actually scheduling the trips), someone in risk management (who is scrutinizing and procuring the insurance products), and someone in the executive suite level (who understands the company’s compliance with the required standards).
In my experience, companies loop in the CFO as well. The CFO is talking about company expenses, company risk and managing budgets. That person becomes an important part, because planning isn’t free and you have to spend money to protect yourself. When you’re talking about an outlay of cash, you’re in the arena of a CFO-type person who’s going to give the authorization.
Global Rescue: What challenges do you feel today’s business travelers are most unprepared to handle?
The Ment Law Group: Whether we are business or leisure travelers, we are all unprepared for the unknown and the unexpected, and the changes happening in travel on a daily basis. That is a problem we cannot get away from. There’s always been issues with travel, but it has never been as fluid and dynamic as it is now. You can wake up today and find out the rules have changed for entry to a country, impacting your employee travel later this week. You could find out tomorrow inbound requirements have changed, making it difficult for your employees to get back home. You could find out tomorrow you have to go to another country for work, but not enough days exist for you to meet the entry requirements.
All of this is new — this is not the way we used to plan travel. We used to think “Hey, does everybody have their passport?” but now we’re worried about “What is it actually going to take for me to leave Westport, Connecticut today, go to JFK, and get on a flight to some country that I wasn’t planning to go to, but now my work needs have changed and I need to go?”
That’s the hard part about planning travel — the unexpected — and travel planners, people and companies need to think about that. For the companies outsourcing their travel planning — they’re using a travel management company, a travel agency or a consolidator — you need an understanding about who’s doing what in that relationship. Some contracts with travel management companies leave the stuff that we’re talking about at the feet of the traveler.
It’s like the “hot potato” — nobody really wants to be responsible for making sure the rules for Japan, for example, are still what they are from last week, or what they might be next week. Travel management companies are trying to dodge the hot potato by saying “We’re going to do our best, but the company still needs to stay abreast of changes.” Well, if that’s true, then the company has to have a plan or subscribe to a service giving them this up-to-date information so they’re not caught off guard.
Global Rescue: There’s a lot of moving parts — a lot of things we’re talking about now that we weren’t talking about two and a half years ago.
The Ment Law Group: And we’re going to keep talking about them, because they’re not going to go away. You have to hop on the horse and go with the plan, because you don’t have a choice.
Global Rescue: Based on your experience, are there any long-term challenges to business travel?
The Ment Law Group: Vaccine or no vaccine — it’s an issue here to stay. Companies now need to figure out who’s actually going to be able to travel if there’s a need to travel. You may have an employee you think is going to be able to get on that next flight, but if vaccination is required and this person’s chosen not to be vaccinated, the company needs to have a different plan.
Travel planners and human resources staff have to be involved in this as well, because many companies are reluctant to ask personal questions about vaccine/vaccination status. Now human resource managers are weighing in on whether or not it’s a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) violation to even ask somebody about their vaccination status. It’s one of these issues in business travel that’s going to stick around for the future.
[Related Reading: Business Travel Is Returning]
Global Rescue: For duty of care purposes, many companies just think of their traditional business travelers: the “road warriors” that are on a plane every week or every other week. These are typically savvy travelers. If something were to happen, they may be a little bit more adept at how to handle it. What is another segment of travelers companies need to be worried about, that maybe aren’t as savvy, and it’s still a major duty of care responsibility?
The Ment Law Group: The road warriors know how to get in and out of things. The people who don’t, from a company perspective, might be the award winners for the incentive travel trip the company is sponsoring, affinity group travel or a bleisure (a blend of business and leisure) travel group. Your duty of care with these less-than-road-warrior people changes, because now you need to make sure these non-regular travelers have what they need.
Good example: You send a group somewhere for a conference, and some people test positive and can’t come back. Well, what are you going to do? Where are they going to stay? Have you made arrangements for post-trip stays someplace, because someone’s quarantined and can’t get on a plane? Companies need to worry about that. As a company with business travelers or a school sending students abroad, we are responsible for making sure we understand what we’re going to do if something doesn’t go right. That is really a good segue into why companies need crisis management planning.
Crisis management planning is something lawyers do, and companies like Global Rescue do. Crisis management planning is not just a plane crash. It’s what happens if the people can’t come home on Friday from a trip — that’s a crisis! It may not be a company crisis impacting the bottom line or your stock price, but it’s a mini crisis you need to have a plan for. You need to be constantly planning for the unexpected.
Global Rescue: Has what’s going on in Ukraine impacted your clients?
The Ment Law Group: It has impacted travel tremendously, because companies are now reluctant to schedule business travel to the region. So, if your company needs to send people to Poland, or to Ukraine or Belarus, can you? Should you? What’s going to happen if you do? It may be difficult to get people out of there, it may be difficult for an emergency evacuation and so a company needs to plan in advance to be able to get people out emergently if the volatile situation changes. So, in the duty of care landscape, when you’re sending people to a part of the world that’s more dangerous than it used to be, or it’s always been dangerous, you need to have that duty of care plan in place to get these people back quickly if the shit hits the fan.
Global Rescue: Last question: what do I need to know about trip protection coverage?
The Ment Law Group: Travel insurance is like an octopus. It has all these different legs and tentacles, and goes in different directions, meaning different things to different people. But, in general, travel protection plans protect things like trip interruption, trip cancellation, lost luggage or sickness cancellation. Having this kind of protection in place is another safety net in the event that something goes wrong.
It’s prudent for travelers to make a decision whether or not travel protection insurance is needed. Most travelers are better off buying travel protection plan coverage for expensive trips or protracted trips. If you’re taking a quick trip to Chicago and back, you maybe don’t need that travel protection plan coverage.
But our industry needs people to travel, so get your bags packed; get your passport, your vaccination card and your travel protection membership; and hit the road.
Jeffrey Ment, managing partner of The Ment Law Group, P.C., has 28 years of practical experience in the travel industry with crisis management, travel contracts, litigation and compliance with national and international laws that enables him to effectively represent tour operators, travel agents and hospitality groups in a wide range of cases. Prior to his legal career, Jeff worked as a travel advisor, tour guide and sales manager for two airlines.
David Leopold, director of enterprise sales, leads the team responsible for enterprise sales, development and implementation at Global Rescue. Prior to Global Rescue, he worked at Staples for 20 years where he held a number of different roles, most recently in the Staples Business Advantage division where he was as a Regional Sales Director responsible for new business development.
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