What is duty of care?

Lydie Charpin

Global Head of Corporation Solutions, Travel Channels, Amadeus

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Everything you need to know about duty of care, travel risk management….and the snail in the bottle that started it all

If you work as a travel manager, in HR, or in legal for a major corporation, you’ve probably familiar with the term “duty of care”. But do you really know what it means, or where it comes from? Have you ever wondered how it relates to travel risk management, and how a corporation can ensure that it meets its legal and moral duty of care obligations? 

Well fortunately, you’re in the right place. 

Duty of care is the legal and ethical responsibility that employers have to take all reasonable steps to ensure employee health, safety and well-being.

And here is a quick overview of everything you need to know. But before we begin, we have to talk about that snail…

The Paisley Snail that started it all

It was a lovely summer afternoon in Scotland in 1928 when Mrs. May Donoghue met up with a friend at a café in Paisley with a hankering for a float of ginger beer. She was partway through her float, when her friend kindly poured the rest of the bottle into her glass. It was then that she saw it: a partially decomposed snail fell from the bottle, like an unwelcome cherry on top of her ice-cream. Mrs. Donoghue fell violently ill and sued the ginger beer manufacturer, Mr. Stevenson. 

And so begins the case of Donoghue v. Stevenson, a case so notorious that you can watch several videos about it on YouTube, including a slightly verbose 42 minute documentary, which claims:  “In the 800 year history of common law, no decision has had such a profound impact on its development as that given in 1932 by Lord Atkin in Britain's House of Lords in the case Donoghue v. Stevenson.” 

Spoiler alert: Mrs. Donoghue won, and the decision fundamentally shaped the concept of duty of care and laws surrounding negligence.

In his ruling, Lord Atkin established a new understanding of negligence law by relying on the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan. This would become known as the neighbor principle:

“You must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injury your neighbor,” he said.  

And that is how the story of an unwanted snail on an ice-cream float came to impact not only ginger beer manufacturers, but any individual or corporate entity which may affect another person with their actions. Duty of care obligations exist in other countries as well, but laws governing these change vary from state to state, and from one country to the next. 

That´s why today, according to a 2018 Lockton report, employers have “the moral and legal responsibility and obligation for the health, safety, and security of their employees, especially those traveling on behalf of the employer,” both domestically and across continents. 

Given that laws change from one country to the next, how can multinational companies or employers manage their legal and moral duty of care obligations? The first step is understanding the risks involved. 

What are the real risks of business travel? 

This was a question Travel Leaders Group asked with a survey of US-based travel agency owners, managers, and frontline agent specialists who were involved in a ‘Duty of care’ situation concerning a business traveler. 

The survey found that the top circumstances where clients required assistance were airline emergencies, civil unrest in international countries, snowstorms, or terrorist incidents. 

Another study by The International SOS Foundation listed the biggest threats in Europe in this order: Ash cloud, pick pocket, travel related infection and road accident. 

And while ash clouds and pick pockets may be inconvenient, road accidents are the biggest threat. According to the Association for Safe International Road Travel, nearly 1.25 million people die in road crashes each year, and an additional 20-50 million are injured or disabled. 

But risks may not be equal for all business travelers. A survey of US corporate travel buyers reveals that nearly seven in ten believe female business travelers face greater risk on the road than their male counterparts. Their main concerns included sexual harassment, assault and kidnapping, citing the importance of selecting hotels and type of lodging carefully. 

Fortunately, not all duty of care concerns involve life or death circumstances. Employers may also want to consider their travelers´ overall health and wellness. A frequent flyer´s access to exercise, a healthy diet, and a regular sleep schedule will not only impact their health, but their business performance as well. Corporate travel policies that respect and encourage traveler well-being will also have a positive impact on employee retention rates. 

So how can corporations and travel managers mitigate these risks? This is where a good travel risk management policy comes in handy. 

What is the difference between duty of care, travel risk management and travel risk mitigation? 

Some companies use the terms duty of care and travel risk management, or even travel risk mitigation, interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. 

Duty of care can be defined as “the moral and/or legal obligation to ensure the safety or well-being of others.” On the other hand, a travel risk management program, or travel risk mitigation program, is what will help corporations and travel managers achieve that goal. 

If we were to use an analogy, imagine a sinking ship. The inflatable boats and life jackets represent duty of care, while staff members trained with an evacuation strategy would represent the travel risk management plan. 

But when it comes to travel safety, not everything is as cut and dry as a sinking ship. So many things, both big and small, can impact an employee´s wellbeing when they travel for work. What are the responsibilities of an employer, corporation, or travel management company when it comes to duty of care? Where does employer liability begin and end? 

How can corporations and travel managers ensure duty of care? 

Since duty of care laws change from one country to the next, there are no clear rules that define when an employer should be liable. However, the first step is to create a solid travel risk management program that evaluates all the risks your travelers may face, and ways to mitigate or account for those risks. 

Corporations working with travel management companies can benefit from their expertise. Your travel manager should be able to help analyze the current situation, understand your business travel requirements and recommend improvements. 

With access to new mobile, cloud-based technologies, such as Amadeus Mobile Messenger, travel management companies can even support travelers at each step of their journey - before, during and after their trip - in real time.

Key Travel is a perfect example. The business travel agency helps companies in the humanitarian, faith and academic sectors get their employees to where they need to be through whatever means necessary. When their customers need to travel, they often need to reach extremely remote and sometimes dangerous places quickly and with peace of mind.

With solutions like Amadeus' Mobile Messenger, travel managers can track travelers in real time, and provide risk intelligence and incident management. So, whether travelers are delayed because of an ash cloud, an earthquake, a car accident or a flight delay, Key Travel's travel managers can send instructions to individuals or large groups of travelers at any point of their journey with easy two-way communication via SMS, email and via push notifications on the iOS and Android friendly app. 

No matter what, even the best travel risk mitigation programs and duty of care policies alone don't ensure health and safety. For business travelers to really feel safe, they don't need support only in times of disaster or disruption, but someone to rely on from the beginning to the end of their journey. True duty of care happens from the moment a business traveler is booking their hotel room and flight, to the time they are reconciling all their travel expenses. 

Unfortunately, even the best travel technology can't prevent a snail from appearing in your ice cream float, but we trust the manufacturing world has that covered. The question for us is, if Mrs. Donoghue fell sick on a business trip and missed her flight, would your travel management company or travel risk mitigation plan be able to get her home safely? 

With the latest Amadeus technology for corporations and business travel agencies, we're confident that the answer is yes. It’s full end-to-end technology, combined with great customer service that will truly power safer and smarter business travel, and that's what Amadeus can achieve with our Live Travel Space.

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Traveler Experience, Live Travel Space, Business Travel, Mobile