Equus Blog

Navigating Business Traveller Employment Relations Minefields

Equus Helps Businesses Navigate Business Traveller Employment Relations

It wasn’t so long ago that pre-travel risk assessments need to focus in on the compliance outcomes, such as whether a Posted Worker registration was necessary or whether personal income tax or social security exposure would be generated in the host location? These obligations certainly haven’t gone away and will likely become more burdensome as individuals become more traceable than ever before as the need for proof of Covid vaccinations or negative test status is pinned on the traveller’s record each and every time they travel.

But in the current day, pre-travel assessments now also need to consider the highly fluid and complex Covid rules in both their host and home country. Does the individual need to quarantine upon arrival, for how long and in which facilities? Does the situation differ for vaccinated versus unvaccinated employees? Is there a traffic light risk rating system in place and what does it mean and who monitors changes?

Accountability for business travel programmes has often sat across a range of functions depending upon who has accountability for the Purchasing aspects of the programme, for Policy definition, Expense or Compliance Management – to name but a few different functional elements. Now it’s more important than ever for each function to come together as one internal Global Travel Advisory Group (GTAG) to define and guide business leadership on what support the business will offer employees whilst travelling. Who will pay the hotel bills should enforced quarantine be mandated, or if the traveller catches Covid and needs to self-isolate whilst away? Will employees have enough credit on their corporate cards to support unplanned for bills? Who will reimburse the costs for taking PCR tests etc.

These are all trickly decisions that employers need to be taking today with input and expert guidance from their internal GTAG teams. These decisions can have significant cost implications for the business, but most employers will have a strong focus on the duty of care towards their workforces and so such decisions can be made rationally and efficiently.

However, there is a significant challenge ahead that will likely generate an employment relations minefield and there really is no clear or easy answer to this – how will Employers track who is ‘fit’ to travel?

‘Fit’ to travel must be considered in many different contexts. The pandemic will have left a mark on the mental health of many of us – will employees even want or be willing to travel whilst there is so much uncertainty? How will the business view their stance if they are a key resource – will employees fear their career may be impacted if they show reluctance or refusal to travel?  

Perhaps more challenging will be how employers will know and identify who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t? This is highly sensitive and confidential medical data and should be treated as such. It should not be captured openly in one’s HRIS record or within a business traveller technology system for reference as part of a pre-travel risk assessment. Practically speaking, there is clear operational benefit from having such visibility to then select employees to support necessary overseas travel where their passage may be simpler by virtue of their vaccination passport alone. But employers must understand that requesting or recording such vaccination confirmation must be regarded as sensitively as an employee’s racial or ethnic origin or sexual orientation. This will add a whole layer of complexity at the pre-travel assessment stage and that’s even before then navigating what Covid home and host country rules are in play as of that day!

Experts from the GTAG should now be consulting with their Employment Relations teams to think through these scenarios and be ready to advise and guide their business on how to ensure that the vaccine ‘language’ that has become part of everyday narrative is treated in the context of the business language as highly sensitive employee personal data. Unfortunately there is no easy answer to this one!

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