Duty of Care, the Mobile Workforce, and What All Organizations Need to Know

Lisa Eifert

The global mobile workforce is predicted to increase from 1.45 billion in 2016 to 1.87 billion in 2022—skyrocketing from 38.8 percent of the global workforce to 42.5 percent, according to Strategy Analytics’ latest report: “Global Mobile Workforce Forecast Update 2016-2022.”  While the mobile movement represents a near-endless expanse of opportunities, it is also accompanied by new obstacles as organizations endeavor to support more employees using more devices. One issue increasingly at the forefront? Duty of care. Here’s a closer look at this legal concept, the impact of mobile, and what all organizations need to know about duty of care.

Defining Duty of Care

According to Lockton, the world’s largest privately owned insurance brokerage firm, “The legal concept of duty of care presumes that individuals and organizations have legal obligations to act toward others and the public in a prudent and cautious manner to avoid the risk of reasonably foreseeable injury to others. Employers have the moral and legal responsibility and obligation for the health, safety, and security of their employees, especially those traveling on behalf of the employer.”

Continues Lockton, “Managing duty of care is part of every stakeholder’s responsibility. Everybody within the company, from the CEO, HR, risk management, legal, operations, finance, to the individual travelers themselves all have responsibility for duty of care. Development and management of a program should have input and buy-in from all parties.”

To this end, Lockton has identified four basic steps to implementing a successful duty of care program, including analyzing travel exposure; developing corporate travel policies; educating employees and knowing where employees are.

Duty of Care in a Mobile World

While duty of care was once largely focused on business travel and international operations, it takes on entirely new meaning in the contemporary mobile marketplace. Organizations must still fulfill their obligation to prioritize the safety and security of traveling employees, but they must also expand their duty of care programs to acknowledge a growing mobile workplace in which more employees than ever are working from home; mobile-based; or using hand-held technologies while working in the field.

The takeaway? Regardless of where they are—at the coffee shop around the corner or halfway around the world—managing the risk of mobile workers is no less critical than managing the risk of all of your employees. In other words, they’re owed the same duty of care as all other workers. Conversely, they also bear responsibility in return.

Best Practices for Duty of Care

Duty of care mandates that the safety of employees comes first. Establishing clear and documented policies and procedures regarding duty of care is an important first step in ensuring that a company is positioned to meet its obligations. But duty of care initiatives are only as effective as they are understood. After all, how can you expect employees to do their equal part in fulfilling duty of care if they don’t know what that part is?

Enter employee training and awareness programming. While these are useful in any workplace scenario, they’re especially useful in mobile settings wherein the challenges of duty of care are compounded by limited control and supervision. In establishing an employee training program aimed at highlighting risks and resources, including—or even especially, moving forward—for mobile workers, organizations mitigate the threat of these uncertain circumstances. (Don’t overlook, however, that supervision is a component of any duty of care program so provisions must also be made for some type of supervision even in mobile arrangements.)

An equally vital duty of care imperative in the 21st century workplace? The ability to locate and communicate with employees in an emergency. While employees traveling for business or working in the field were once limited in terms of how to send and receive messages, employers now have an invaluable partner in innovative emergency notification systems like Send Word Now.  It’s designed to accommodate not only the distance, but also the variety of devices, among members of any widely-distributed workforce.

Ultimately, there’s no substitute for the role prevention plays in keeping an organization’s employees safe and secure. However, no amount of prevention is a guarantee. By addressing the full scope of duty of care—whether office-based, traveling, or mobile—and by prioritizing training, communication, and accountability, you can not only position your organizations to successfully fulfill its duty of care responsibilities, but can also simultaneously create an organization-wide culture that aligns with their duty of care goals.

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