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Does your WFA policy cover business travel risk?

Zoe Betts tells HRNews about managing business travel risk when staff work from abroad

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  • Transcript

    Four in five employers believe that providing employees with flexibility in their work schedules and locations is crucial to attracting and keeping talent according to research by the CIPD. A ‘work from anywhere’ culture has been adopted by many employers, including allowing working from abroad, but what are risks to the business?
    It’s a subject that’s been flagged by People Management  which highlights insurance in particular. They quote a survey conducted by consultancy firm Gallagher which found many people are working abroad without insurance, with the risk having gone unnoticed by the business. They also mention the tax risk of unintentionally creating a ‘permanent establishment’ in a foreign country where employee is the based. That could subject the business corporate tax liability in that country and it’s a point that was explained in this programme last week by tax specialist Penny Simmons.
    The other risk worth flagging is the travel risk and it raises some important questions. Do you have a ‘Work From Anywhere’ policy? If you do, does it deal with the travel risks? As an HR professional should that even be your concern? There is a strong argument that the pandemic, and the war in Ukraine, has changed the role of the HR professional and that it now covers, or should cover, business travel risk given the duty of care owed to all employees. We’ve noticed in recent times a number of our clients have brought HR directors into crisis their management teams with travel risk part of that equation. 
    To help manage the risks around business travel, last year the International Organization for Standardisation published some very helpful guidance in the form of ISO 31030 and it was flagged at the time by Personnel Today. They make the point that HR professionals are increasing involved in risk and crisis management and how this standard can help.  
    It has four areas of focus. First, scoping the context of international travel risk management – so helping define the employer’s risk criteria. Secondly, building a travel risk management process. Third, the journey itself and operational management. And fourth, recording and reporting on the travel risk management policy, with the aim of improving its resilience over time.
    So clearly this is a useful tool so let’s hear more about it. Zoe Betts is a health and safety specialist who advises clients on how to manage this type of risk and she joined me by video-link to discuss this new standard and HR’s role. I started by asking Zoe where this standard fits in to the ISO series:
    Zoe Betts: “It's part of a wider series of international standards, the 31000 series, which helps businesses to plan for, assess and mitigate other day to day business risks, but I think it's really timely that we've got this specific standard, this 31030, focusing on travel risk because the world is opening up. We’re coming to the end of the pandemic, people are definitely going to want to get back to their international and domestic travel to meet clients, colleagues, family, and friends around the world so we really do need to put into sharp focus the risks associated with business travel. I certainly think for professional services firms, even like Pinsent Masons, this is one of the biggest risks that we might face from a health and safety perspective. There is a very clear duty of care in law to take reasonable steps for your employees safety and wellbeing and that has to include where we send them on business. So it's absolutely right, and very timely, for businesses to consider where are we sending people? How are we going to get them there safely? How will we look after them when they're there? And how will we get them home?”
    Joe Glavina: “So how do you implement these measures in practice, Zoe?”
    Zoe Betts: “Well, I think very often, it comes back to first principles which is really risk assessment. You have to assess the risks and you have to then put in place suitable and proportionate control measures and it makes perfect sense to reduce these sorts of measures into policies and procedures which are then communicated to your workforce. I think if we're actually focusing on the issue of business travel then what you really need to do as an employer is chunk it down into what you might need to do before somebody travels, what you do when they're actually travelling, or when they're at their destination, and what you do afterwards. So, very simply, when you're thinking about sending somebody abroad, let's say, you should really do some sort of pre-travel report. You need to look at the destination, is it low risk or high risk and why is that? Look at the particular issues that you need to consider in that particular destination and then plan ahead for that and put in place some measures and some mitigations. You need to consider the individual traveller, are there any bespoke issues relating to this employee, any particular vulnerabilities, disabilities, any pre-existing health conditions that would be relevant to the destination that they want to go to? The ‘during’ bit, when someone's actually travelling, I would suggest they need a point of contact, maybe a line manager, and then needs to be a process for raising an alarm if, unexpectedly, contact with that person while they're travelling, or while they're away, is broken. Also, of course, the person needs to have some emergency contact details and some assistance and support in the area where they are. So, if an incident occurs, what are they going to do? How are you going to get that person some help and how are you going to get them home safely? Then I think, like any good process, there has to be some monitoring and review. So when somebody has come back from international travel, ask them how it went, take their views and build those into your process so that you can continually improve it.”
    Joe Glavina: “It’s interesting to see this is a feature article in Personnel Today, which obviously has an HR audience. Do you agree, this is an issue that HR should be involved with?”
    Zoe Betts: “I absolutely do, and I think, perhaps, historically, that hasn't been the case but if I was giving advice to clients now, I would advocate a joined-up approach. There are health and safety aspects to this, you may have your own travel or security department, but it has to be right that this is an HR issue. I think the pandemic, more so than ever, has brought a real focus on employees’ concerns for their own health and their wellbeing and their welfare and that clearly extends to travel. I think people are really conscious of the measures that they want to take, and that they want their employer to take, to keep them safe and keep them well and that's an HR issue. HR professionals are the interface, really, with the workforce and so it has to be right that if, for example, you were thinking of a crisis management team, I would be advocating that you involve your HR managers, or your HR director, to make sure that you've properly planned, in the round, a holistic approach to that travel so that in the event that anything does go wrong you can react accordingly and get that person home safely because at the end of the day that's the duty of care and that's what's most important.”
    The new standard is called ‘ISO 31030 on travel risk management’ and it gives detailed guidance to employers on how to manage the risks facing the business and its employees as a result of undertaking travel. We have put a link to it in the transcript of this programme. 
     - Link to ISO 31030

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