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Who is responsible? Duty of care on holidays and R&R

It comes as no surprise that how we work has changed over the past decade. We have all sorts of working modalities including compressed working hours, remote working environments and people combining work with holiday travel. Many organisations have people working all over the globe for between several days to several years. The combination of these modalities within a single organisation might be many. However, with all these new ways of working one thing is certain: people are travelling more. They are travelling more for both work and pleasure and often the two are combined. As an organisation, knowing where your employees, contractors, consultants, and volunteers are and whether they are under your duty of care is critical when considering their security and insurance provision.

Take these examples for instance:

1. One of your organisation’s London-based employees travels to Indonesia on an evaluation trip to visit a project in the country. At the end of the trip, they are planning to fly up to Bali for a weekend holiday before returning home. Are they under your duty of care while they are holidaying in Bali?

2. A UK national has a year-long contract with a posting in Turkey with your organisation. For their rest and recuperation (R&R) they have been invited to visit another colleague’s family in Karachi, Pakistan and would like to know if they can go. What would you say?

3. Your organisation has a regional hub office in Jordan. At the weekends, it’s common for both international and national staff to go down to the Dead Sea swimming, off on camel tours to Petra and rock climbing around Amman. Is your organisation responsible for staff on these activities?

At any point during these weekends, holidays and R&Rs staff, employees and volunteers could become ill or injured. This raises the critical question– where is the line between personal time and work time? Where is the line between personal responsibility and organisational, or corporate, responsibility? The line is not always clear but it is critically important. For your managers, it can be the difference between sending an email to a staff person who is in hospital wishing them a speedy recovery and having to organise a medical evacuation. Your organisation should know who it is responsible for at any point as well as whether there is insurance to cover medical and security emergencies for all those people.

If you manage security in an organisation and you are approached by manager’s wanting advice about staff and their leisure time there are some key details to find out before you answer.

What does the person’s contract say? Where is their ‘contractual home’?

If a staff person is Jordanian and has been hired locally then their ‘contract home’ is the office in Amman. The organisation’s duty of care begins when they come to work in the morning, covers all travel for work, and then ends at the end of each working day. The evenings and weekends are their personal responsibility if they are not on directed work events. International staff posted to Jordan are another matter entirely. Their contract covers the entire time they are working for the organisation (i.e. 24/7). There might be hours in which they aren’t working but there is no time in which they are ‘off-the-clock’ when it comes to duty of care. They have been sent to Jordan by the organisation so from the time they depart from their home location until they return there they are obligated to follow the organisation’s advice and are under the organisation’s duty of care. The organisation can say whether they can swim in the Dead Sea, visit Karachi on R&R, or rock climb at the weekends. Likewise, if they were to have an accident while doing these things it is the organisation that would need to respond and the organisation’s insurances which would be activated.

For short-term trips the question is: where does the trip begin and end? This gives a strong indication of where your duty of care begins and ends. Simply because the employee is doing leisure activities at the beginning, end, or over the weekends of a business trip does not mean that you are not responsible for caring for them. Many organisations have a ‘leisure policy’ which explains the details of what employees may and may not do on their downtime and weekends and whether they can tack ‘personal days’ onto the beginning or end of trips.

What does your insurance provide?

Many UK-based insurances will not provide cover to any places where the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against travel. This could mean that if the FCO has advised against travel to Karachi, Pakistan then your insurance might not cover staff whilst travelling there. Different types of insurances also have different clauses which provide insurance while the person is travelling but not in their home country. If they take an R&R in their home country and are injured they might not have insurance. Other insurances stipulate that adventure sports – such as rock climbing or surfing – aren’t covered. Knowing your organisation’s insurances will help you make critical decisions about what those travelling can and can’t do.

What have employees, volunteers, and consultants been told, when and how?

It’s often not until there’s a problem that organisations start looking into what they have told staff about what they should, and should not, do. It’s rare that a staff induction thoroughly covers duty of care when it comes to down time unless the organisation is operating in a high-risk environment. There aren’t many consultant contracts, or briefings, that alert them to whether they can tack on a holiday to their work trip overseas. Having a good idea of what the organisation will, and will not, allow - and why that is - should be articulated in a variety of documents and given to different staff both when they join and through regular security briefings. While telling staff that they can’t rock climb at the weekends in Amman might seem overly prescriptive and protective compare that to the results and cost of managing a bad rock climbing accident in Amman.

While all organisations like to believe that they are hiring competent adults who are capable and responsible for themselves and able to make good decisions both at work and on holiday it is important to not use this as an excuse to abdicate organisational responsibility. There is nothing ‘common’ about ‘common sense’ and what might seem perfectly reasonable to one responsible adult could be highly risky and dangerous to another. As the contract holder, your organisation is the final arbitrator and that responsibility should be taken seriously.

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