Travel policies: risky business

A striking trend among companies is that many are implementing extensive travel policies that specify in minute detail the guidelines for travellers during corporate travel. It's good to see companies establishing a travel policy, but few are aware of the associated risks. Keep the following things in mind for your own travel policy or if you are planning on writing one.

What about compliance?

Travel policies specify the criteria that travellers must adhere to during international corporate travel. This includes the booking classes for flights, which hotels can be considered based on their star rating and bookings made by preferred suppliers. Travel policies are also increasingly seen as a secondary employment condition that creates opportunities for travellers. 

The inherent challenge of a travel policy is ensuring that all travellers adhere to them. From a financial perspective, a travel policy is used to manage costs, and from a security perspective, it tells you where travellers are. Travellers who do not adhere to the travel policy can cause unexpected expenses or come up against some nasty surprises during corporate travel. A travel policy must therefore be specific enough for purchasing procedures, but also sufficiently appealing for travellers to abide by it.

Prevent the risk, enforce the policy

The travel policy is directly connected to companies’ duty of care. Companies have a duty of care towards travellers on corporate travel, which is especially relevant in areas where travellers are exposed to extra security or health risks. Many travel policies therefore mention medical issues and safety. Regardless of how far you wish to go on this specific point, it is essential that the travel policy is always adhered to and applied. A famous example of this is the ‘ABB ruling’, where the company ABB experienced what happens when a travel policy is not enforced. 

ABB's policy stated that travellers had to undergo a medical examination after corporate travel. One of ABB's travellers became ill during corporate travel to Thailand. The traveller was hospitalized and reported sick to their employer. One day later, the traveller was released from the hospital, after which they continued their corporate travel. When the traveller returned to the Netherlands, ABB failed to ensure a medical examination took place as described in the travel policy. After approximately one year, the traveller was diagnosed with a chronic illness and the judge ruled that ABB could not rule out the possibility that the illness was contracted during the corporate travel in Thailand, as no medical examination had been performed upon the traveller’s return. ABB was ruled to be responsible and had to pay a large amount in damages.

The crux of the case is that ABB did not enforce its travel policy. If ABB had had a simpler travel policy or enforced the existing one, the verdict would most likely have been different.

The grey area between working and non-working hours.

It is also important to know that your duty of care during corporate travel extends beyond working hours. The criteria described in your travel policy also apply to non-working hours during corporate travel. During a set of legal proceedings, a judge ruled in favour of a KLM pilot who held his employer responsible for an accident involving a taxi during corporate travel (this is known as 'the KLM ruling'). The pilot stayed in the Ivory Coast between flights. When travelling from the hotel to the restaurant, the pilot’s taxi hit a tree and the pilot suffered serious injuries. As the judge ruled that the time between two flights is inherent to the pilot's work, this time is also seen as working hours. So, as the employer, KLM was liable. Companies must be aware of the fact that the travel policy applies to the hours inherent to the work that the traveller conducts abroad and not just the business appointments or regular working hours during corporate travel. During corporate travel, there is a very thin line between working and non-working hours.

Points requiring attention when writing a travel policy

While travel policies are an important aspect of corporate travel, ensure that your travel policy does not harm your own interests as an employer. We recommend that you take the following points into account: 

  • Be concise when writing your travel policy;
  • Enforce your policy;
  • Inform travellers of their own role and their responsibility during corporate travel;
  • Discuss what constitutes working and non-working hours during corporate travel with your travellers; 
  • Create support for your travel policy. Write a travel policy with a group of your travellers.

Munckhof is very experienced in writing travel policies for companies and would be happy to advise you. Expat Preventive is an excellent resource for topics such as duty of care and safety of travellers abroad.

Mascha Boelens
Mascha Boelens
Result Manager
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