The pandemic has changed the business workforce for the near future. 

One of the biggest management challenges in this evolving environment will be the ability for company leaders to update and meet their duty of care requirements to protect their employees whether they are office-bound, location-independent or on business travel.

According to Jeffrey Ment, an attorney with expertise in travel-related issues, "duty of care generally requires that every employer provide employment that is safe for the employees, supplying and using safeguards and devices and doing every reasonable thing necessary to protect the life, health and safety of their employees."

Digital nomadism doesn’t change an employer’s duty of care obligations, but it certainly raises awareness among C-suite executives, senior management teams, HR professionals, union leaders, government agencies and employees to examine the rigor of their organization’s current capabilities.

They carry a responsibility to take care of their employees and avoid exposing them to any unnecessary or undue risk, whether they are office-bound or not. Managing the duty of care responsibilities for a remote workforce will be a new challenge as unprecedented numbers of employees log in from the beach, mountains and other remote places where they work.

Employers are responsible for complying with local employment laws. If you have staff working in another country, the organization may be bound by foreign employment laws — including payroll tax payments, social security contributions, holiday allowances, overtime pay, maximum working hours and more. Failure to comply could result in fines or legal action.

Managers must be aware of their employees’ locations. While the staff member is responsible for getting permission to work in a foreign country, it is up to organizational security leadership to comply with the laws of the host country.

There have been significant court decisions based on breaches of duty of care responsibilities. For example, one lawsuit by the surviving family of a Lucent Technologies/AT&T employee who died after a surgical procedure in the Middle East and another by a Hotchkiss School student who contracted encephalitis while on a school-sponsored trip to China. In both cases, the court upheld the claims that resulted in sizable monetary awards (in one case, in excess of $40 million) and damage to the organization’s reputation.

There are seven elements of a duty of care policy. Employers and employees both should evaluate the current duty of care policy to make certain it includes key elements:

  1. Who are the company directors or officers responsible for fulfilling the organization’s duty of care?
  2. Does the policy include a risk assessment that includes the organization’s travel risk profile?
  3. Is there a risk management plan?
  4. Does the policy include a crisis response plan?
  5. What is the education or training program for employees and travel risk management providers?
  6. Is there a tracking method or technology capable of monitoring and assessing incidents?
  7. Does the program include a post-travel feedback mechanism to help refine risk management and crisis response plans?

"It is essential that an organization’s leadership learn the laws, regulations, standards and prevailing practices of countries where their employees are visiting as digital nomads," Ment said. "Doing so can insulate the organization from multimillion-dollar judgments and significant harm to the organization’s reputation and brand."