You asked: “What is our company’s obligation (or “duty of care”) to our employees as they travel for business?”
Video conferencing and advances in “connectivity” may have reduced the need for some business travel, but companies will always have certain business that can only be accomplished face-to-face. And that means employees will continue to drive, fly and travel to remote and distant lands – or even just a few towns away. Either way, the company’s responsibility to provide a reasonably safe working environment extends to their employees who are traveling on company business.
Whether their travel is domestic or abroad, your employees should be able to count on the company to have their best interests in mind. Here are some of your most important obligations to your traveling employees:
Proper compensation: Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), time spent traveling during normal work hours (the period of the day they regularly work) is considered work time and non-exempt employees must be paid for this travel time — even if they ordinarily work Monday through Friday but travel on the weekend. In addition to traveling during their regular work hours, any work your employee is required to perform while off site that falls outside of their normal work hours must be counted as hours worked. That “work” might include driving, mandatory reading, attending meetings, making sales calls, answering business-related emails, etc. If that work time takes the employee over 40 hours, you must pay overtime.
Keep in mind your employee’s classification. Because exempt employees are generally salaried, the exempt employee would not receive additional pay for time spent traveling or extra work done away from their regular workplace – unless the company has an internal policy that says otherwise.
You are not required to compensate an employee for “commute” time. That includes the time it takes them to get to the airport if they are flying to their destination – even if the trip to the airport takes them longer than their regular commute to work.
If they use their own vehicle to drive to their destination, their mileage becomes compensable. However, you are not required to reimburse them (though most companies do). Unlike their commute mileage, this travel mileage can be deducted from the employee’s taxes if the company does not reimburse.
Travel reimbursements: Some states require travel reimbursements, but not all. Pennsylvania, for example, does not require companies to reimburse their travelers for incidental expenses. However, most companies do so anyway. In addition to mileage for personal vehicles, those reimbursements usually include flights, food, lodging, local transportation (bus, taxi, rental car) and money spent entertaining business clients.
Risk management: Think of your company as a safety net for your traveler. If something goes wrong while they are traveling, they need to know where to go for help. Make sure they will have access to care should a medical emergency arise. Will your insurance cover them while they are traveling? Do they have all the information they need to get that care?
You should also know where they are as they travel. This is especially important for your overseas travelers. If you don’t have a travel service, this may be as simple as training your travelers to keep their on-line calendars current with travel information, including hotels.
Make sure your personnel records are up-to-date with all their contact information. If any major events occur as they travel, you should be able to connect with them quickly, even if it is through family members.
Pre-travel preparation for your employee: You can help prepare your travelers for a safe trip, whether it’s international or domestic. First of all, make sure you have policies in place that clearly address travel expectations, resources and procedures. And make sure all employees see those policies.
Educate your employees through regular “safety briefs”. This can be done as payroll stuffers, weekly emails or postings on the company intranet. You can include tips and reminders for hotel security, vehicle safety, avoiding street crime, and protecting personal property while away from home. If you need some ideas, look online. For international travelers, check out the U.S. State Department’s website. Florida’s Broward County Sheriff’s Office has a great list of general safety tips for all travelers. For road safety trips, check out AAA’s website.
Proper fleet maintenance: Make sure your company fleet vehicles are properly maintained and fully insured at all times. Keep all insurance information in the vehicle along with an emergency road kit, first aid kit and phone numbers for emergency help.
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