Companies advised to review travel policies

//March 14, 2019

Companies advised to review travel policies

//March 14, 2019

Safety is among one of the top travel concerns for women business travelers, according to a September article by an executive with Washington-based SAP Concur, an accounting and expense management services firm.

“It may come as no surprise that 71 percent of female business travelers believe they face greater risk than their male counterparts,” wrote Kim Albrecht, chief marketing officer with SAP Concur.

Albrecht wrote that a 2018 survey of women who travel four or more times a year found that 83 percent said they experienced a safety-related event. The survey was conducted by AIG Travel and Global Business Travel Association, according to the article, which came at the height of awareness brought on by the #MeToo movement.

Human resources and other executives aren’t necessarily creating new travel policies, but they should make sure that the training and rules already in place are well understood by employees and managers, said Eric Athey, an attorney with the Lancaster office of the law firm McNees Wallace & Nurick. A lot of issues involve the evening hours that may follow a day of meetings and seminars, he and others said.

“There is a feeling of, ‘Hey, I am out of town, and it’s after 5 o’clock, and I can do whatever I want,’” Athey said.  

Companies should think through travel arrangements to ensure that potential issues are considered from the start, especially when the travelers are of the opposite sex, he said.

For example, a supervisor who is traveling with underlings should have a higher level of awareness when it comes to after-hour events. Essentially, there is no real down time when traveling, and the rules of the workplace never really cease. While team members might view a post-event drinks and dinner as a time to unwind, he said, those times are not opportunities to pursue romantic interests or intimate friendships.

“Give careful thought to constructing a team,” Athey said.

If a supervisor must travel with a subordinate of the opposite sex, add a third person to the mix to help ensure no lines are crossed, he said as an example.

Such an arrangement could reduce the chances of a he-said/she-said situation, said Denise Elliott, who also is an attorney with McNees Wallace & Nurick. She recalled a case where a man and woman traveling together went out drinking. That led to a sexual encounter that the man said was consensual. The woman said there had been no consent because she was intoxicated.

‘Reasonable expectations’

Such cases are difficult to handle, so companies might adopt rules that prohibit or limit drinking, which would address the problem before it started, she said.

“So what could happen after wouldn’t happen,” Elliott said.

Most company handbooks already address a range of behaviors, so there might not be a need for new rules, but the existing rules should be reviewed before travel begins, observers noted.

“A lot of it is reminding people what is appropriate,” Elliott said. The idea of being away from the primary workplace and going out to dinner can mean that people “forget they are at work.”

Training is key, she said.

“You can’t babysit employees,” Elliott said. “But you can set reasonable expectations.”

Deirdre Kamber Todd, an Upper Macungie-based attorney, is the diversity and legislative chair of the Society of Human Relations Management Lehigh Valley chapter. She noted that pre-planning is also imperative when traveling overseas.

The rules of conducting business, especially after primary work hours, will vary widely from country to country, she said. What is OK in northern Europe might not be accepted in the Middle East or Asia, she said. Workers need to be thoroughly educated about the differences before travel starts, she said, even if it is travel within the U.S.

When setting standards of behavior, Kamber Todd said, companies need to look at whether they are doing the minimum – a compliance-based system – or implementing an extraordinarily high level of care to ensure employee safety.  

For example, a company might require a basic amount of checking in that involves submitting an itinerary and that requires receipts for all business-related expenses. A higher level of policies – best practices – might require detailed check-in routines throughout the day, especially if there are night functions.

Too many requirements might not be practical, however.

“It is finding that middle ground,” said Kamber Todd, whose firm is called The Kamber Law Group.

She agreed that policies need to be clearly outlined in employee handbooks and manuals and that workers be properly trained. Limitations on alcohol and nicotine purchases also must be made clear, she added.

Companies might not be making direct responses to the #MeToo movement, she said, but they are becoming more aware of what needs to improve.

“There is a sense of ‘we need to up our game,’” she added.