In our current global marketplace and with many company’s holding international operations, work related travel has become a necessity of modern life. Generally, work related trips go ahead with little trouble, but who is liable when things go wrong?
The duty of care placed upon employers can be quite extensive. The requirements to hold relevant travel insurance and undertake risk assessments are common place. Further practical considerations could be to ensure that workers are aware of the standard of conduct expected; and steps they must take to ensure that they do not place themselves in positions of danger, inside or outside of normal working hours whilst abroad.
A case relevant to the question of what duty of care is owed by an employer when sending employees abroad is Cassley v GMP Securties and anor. A claim for compensation of £7 million, was advanced by the family members of an employee who died in an airplane crash whilst on work related international travel. Although the accident was caused by pilot error, the European Union had blacklisted all carriers in the region (Congo) because of poor regulation. The family claimed that the employer was negligent in not undertaking checks which would have discovered this, and which would have effectively stopped Mr Cassley being on the flight.
The High Court did not find the employers to be liable to pay damages despite being in breach of its own policies on health and safety; and its failure to make adequate enquiries with the client about the flight booked. This was because the crash was not related to the breaches but was caused by pilot error.
The Cassley case sheds light on the level of involvement an employer should have when staff are sent abroad. It also gives some insight into the approach which should be taken to ensure staff safety, and minimise exposure to claims.
A non-exhaustive list of steps to take includes:
* Taking reasonable steps to be aware of your employees’ itinerary: where they are, who they are with and how they are travelling;
* Checking with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for updates on any specific advice for the region of travel;
* Ensuring that your employee is adequately insured for their trip, and giving specific guidance to your employee about restrictions both from an insurance and foreign policy perspective, preferably in writing;
* Making sure your staff inform you of any change of plans or additional activities they are engaging in;
* Conducting a thorough risk assessment for the trip, and their fitness to travel;
* Adhering to your own health and safety policies.
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Employers have duty of care for those they employ overseas. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), leads in dealing with crises involving British nationals working overseas. The FCO’s first priority is to support those directly affected - and their families. Key principles for protecting employees in high-risk environments: Preparation Recognise the scale of the risk when considering operating in high risk areas. Follow FCO Travel advice and subscribe to FCO travel alerts. Provide professional deployment and security briefing for all employees. Consider providing employees with profession hostile environment awareness training. Collect ‘personal risk profile’ data on all employees. Have up-to-date maps, plans and photographs of work locations and accommodation. Consider investing in tracking and remote monitoring technologies.