In recent years, high-profile litigation has broadened the scope and understanding of the duty of care that companies owe to their employees traveling abroad. An awareness of those duties – and the specific requirements for employers – is critical in planning a presence at global events like the upcoming World Cup in Brazil.
Duty of Care
Duty of care standards originated within the world of workers’ compensation and quickly expanded, so that companies are now expected – and required, in many cases – to provide employees with a safe working environment even while traveling abroad. Companies that fail to educate and support employees on risk and best practices for risk mitigation jeopardize not only employee safety, but company liability as well.
Providing a safe working environment for travelers consists of five critical elements:
- Educating employees on the risks in the environment, even as those risks change.
- Provide traveling employees with security and/or cultural awareness training appropriate to their destination.
- Provide employees with the ability to seek guidance and assistance on a 24/7 basis.
- Knowing where employees are throughout their trip.
- Ability to provide support and assistance up to including medical and or security evacuation if need be.
Fortunately for businesses, technology can assist with many of considerations. Security providers can assist with real-time, location-specific security alerts and pre-travel intelligence on local security developments. They can also provide 24/7 advice and operational support, including evacuation in case of a medical emergency or catastrophic event. In many cases, they also offer GPS location, especially for high-risk destinations or higher profile employees and VIPs who might be at greater risk.
Much of today’s security measures can take place in real-time, via pushed intelligence alerts and guidance access. Mobile apps are making security even easier, enabling employees to use one-touch “check-in” capabilities that update on their status, as well as crisis options that alert security providers and can share the traveler’s precise GPS location with operational response teams – all through a phone or tablet.
But a critical piece of the security equation – employee training and buy-in – must happen before an employee embarks on a trip. Since local customs, laws and regulations can vary so greatly, it’s critical that companies have a real understanding of the areas where employees will be stationed.
Sometimes in my work, I hear “cultural awareness” downplayed as primarily a wardrobe concern – say, avoiding wearing shorts in Saudi Arabia. In reality, a real understanding of cultural differences can be a matter of life and death. The LGBT community, for instance, faces a complex mix of risks, and many factors must be considered before traveling. In recent years, LGBT concerns have been top of mind for many of our clients, since LGBT employees can risk fines, imprisonment or even sentenced to death in certain countries.
The World Cup
The World Cup Games offer a unique opportunity for companies throughout the world – a month-long celebration of the world’s most popular sport in a region where it enjoys widespread support.
As we’re telling all of our clients, careful preparation is the key to a safe presence while in Brazil. We don’t consider Brazil to be a terribly high-risk environment, but things will be a little different during the World Cup, which is sure to feature ongoing demonstrations and protests, as we see at just about any event on this scale.
With that in mind, companies should thoroughly prepare employees for the environment and the risks present in it, taking a careful look at ground transportation, hotel selection and communications capabilities, to ensure a timely response in case of an emergency during the games.
You should carefully consider the following:
Communications. Before employees travel, they should verify international coverage with cell service providers. To avoid high data roaming costs, we generally recommend that travelers disable constant data roaming while traveling; instead enabling it briefly every 2-3 hours for data downloads. Travelers who opt to purchase an in-country phone for their trip should be sure to share their in-country number with contacts at home, within their company, with their security provider and with the State Department Enrollment Program.
File with the State Department. Companies should work with traveling U.S. citizens to ensure that all trips and itineraries are registered with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service to U.S. citizens and nationals traveling to or living in a foreign country. STEP lets travelers enter a trip itinerary so that the State Department can better assist them in an emergency.
Remote areas are higher-risk. Because the World Cup Games are spread across so much of Brazil, travelers will experience differing levels of security. More remote areas will be more of a challenge for security personnel – and for any response operations that might be needed in the event of an emergency. Because of this, it’s a good idea to validate each traveler’s medical insurance coverage and review available security provider support to identify preferred hospitals and the ability to provide medical or security support or evacuation if needed.
Vaccination Considerations. One of the things we discovered looking in evaluating varying evacuation scenarios during the World Cup involves vaccinations. While Brazil itself doesn’t require a yellow fever shot, some of its neighboring countries do, so we’re advising anyone traveling to the World Cup to get a Yellow Fever shot as a precaution.
Traffic. It might sound trivial, but traffic in Brazil’s major cities can be brutal, so that a seemingly routine trip from the Sao Paolo airport to downtown can take 2-3 hours. We are advising travelers to build in plenty of time for transit, and to be careful while traveling. It’s not uncommon for passengers to be robbed while stopped in traffic, so employees should be advised to keep windows rolled up, doors locked, and valuables out of sight.
Street Crime. The biggest threat for travelers Brazil will be pickpocketing and street crime. We are strongly recommending that individual travelers take the following precautions:
- Research safe neighborhoods and choose lodging accordingly.
- Familiarize yourself with fire exits, making sure they are unlocked and that stairwells are free of clutter.
- Pre-arrange transportation through hotels or car services and avoiding walking alone – especially at night.
- Make a copy of your passport and visa, and keep those separate from your actual passport in the event of loss/theft.
- Avoid any demonstrations or protests that you may encounter.
- Leave expensive watches or jewelry in the U.S.
Accommodations. It’s important to book lodging with an awareness of which neighborhoods are safest, to reduce risk from street crime. Also, because fire ladder trucks in Brazil may not reach higher than the sixth floor, we recommend staying only in rooms between the second and sixth floors of any hotel.
Go Easy on the Tech. Technology like laptops and iPads can be very expensive in Brazil, so Brazilian authorities look with suspicion on those traveling with more than one laptop or tablet.
Do your homework. Since the majority of Brazilians will not speak English, we recommend that travelers learn several key phrases in Portuguese before they travel to the country.
Dot Those I’s. In the event of an emergency, complete paperwork can be the difference between a speedy departure and intricate dealings with embassies and consulates. All travelers should be sure they have passports and visas that remain valid well beyond expected return dates.
And Cross the T’s. If you plan to travel with a pill-pack, be sure to bring a photo of your prescription label or a letter from your physician stating what they have prescribed to you. Neither of these is necessary if you bring your prescription bottle – but if you want to save that space, opt for the doctor’s note, lest you arouse suspicion at the airport.
The month-long World Cup festivities in Brazil are sure to be memorable for attendees – and a tremendous opportunity for the many businesses with a presence at the games. With careful planning, preparation and support, companies can reduce the risk to their teams, as well as themselves – so that everyone is free to focus on the work.
About the Author:
Bob Howell is Manager, Global Response Operations, for iJET International, Inc., which provides intelligence-driven operational risk management solutions to enable multinational companies and government organizations to operate globally with confidence.