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A Global Safety Plan Protects Corporate Travelers

What should providing true duty of care to employees actually look like?

That’s the question that Shelby LeMaire, global travel manager at iRobot Corporation, asked herself almost a decade ago when she was tasked with consolidating the organization’s global travel program. The company, which sells technology ranging from Roomba vacuums to military-grade robots, has offices in 15 countries and often sends employees into war-torn areas to provide support to the military. 

When LeMaire began researching travel programs, she realized she wanted to do more than just track employees as they moved around the globe—she wanted to prepare them for the risks they might face. 

“As I started to do some research about that, I realized there was this obligation called duty of care, and that’s what this fell into,” LeMaire says. “At that time, there really wasn’t a lot of literature…so I did a significant amount of research on my own and I realized that we needed to fulfill this duty of care obligation. My first reason for wanting to put the program in place was for employee safety, but then I realized as a company we have a responsibility to our travelers.”

LeMaire presented her argument to iRobot’s executive team, where she cited legislation and case law, as well as educating them on the concept of duty of care because they were unfamiliar with the term. When the organization approved an expansion of its travel management strategy, LeMaire partnered with International SOS, a medical and travel security firm, for organizational support.

“Our program has evolved over time, but I look at duty of care differently than a lot of people,” LeMaire notes. “Some people feel that they give their employees a card that has a number to call, and I say that’s not fulfilling duty of care responsibilities.”

Having International SOS handle the risk intelligence, employee tracking, and medical response aspects of employee travel was a huge help, but LeMaire went on to augment traveler preparedness with a predeployment education plan for iRobot employees, which included educating them on travel best practices and risks specific to the area in which they were traveling.

 “That was important to me because I realized that not only do you need to have a response plan if somebody needs medical or security assistance, but from a company and an employee perspective you want them to have a successful mission and you want them to be prepared, not only for the risks that they are facing but other things such as IT equipment, currency, and how to avoid the risks that you’re going to face as you’re traveling overseas,” she explains.

Predeparture activities are also based on a risk grading that International SOS provides to the organization. “If there’s a risk grading that’s higher than a certain grade, then that’s escalated to the executive level where I manage that process,” LeMaire explains. “From there we have specific requirements for those travelers that are going to high [risk] and extreme destinations where we do one-on-one briefings with them to prepare them.”

While the training and risk analyses may cover worst-case scenarios, LeMaire says it’s not meant to scare employees—it’s to make them understand what processes and tools are in place if they do encounter a problem.

“It’s really important that the travelers have that comfort level knowing that when they are abroad, they have tools that can help them navigate through situations,” she explains. “I can just imagine companies that don’t have these programs in place, how an employee would feel—I would feel terrified myself if I were overseas not knowing what to do if I suddenly became ill or had an accident of any sort.”

It’s clear that LeMaire is passionate about developing an extensive travel program for iRobot. She acknowledges that many organizations may not build out such a robust program because they only consider large-scale crises that rarely take place. But she says the program goes beyond terror attacks or natural disasters—it’s especially helpful if an employee falls ill abroad.

“It’s not just the high-risk situations that people think of—we promote the usage of International SOS for any and all concerns while you’re traveling,” LeMaire explains. “One of the things that people think of when they hear about risk abroad is something like the Paris attacks. I think a lot of companies think, ‘Oh, it’s not going to happen to us,’ but the vast majority of cases that any company is going to encounter are medical cases. We’ve encountered many medical situations as people have traveled abroad, and one of the key things is that you want to be able to respond to them in a timely matter.”

Because of this, when LeMaire worked with the organization’s executive team to create an emergency response plan of core activities they would carry out from the office, she also kept in mind that not all travel issues would be severe. She created a communications policy that only alerts executive-level team members if the problem is severe enough, which then triggers the response plan.

“There are things that we as a company need to put in place that were consistent among the security issues, the medical issues, so this just helped us stay focused and not panic” if something did happen to employees.

More recently, iRobot has expanded its travel program to apply to employees traveling within the United States, as well. 

“We need to also assume responsibility and liability of our travelers traveling domestically,” LeMaire says. “It may not be as robust of a training, but we need to make sure that we’re capturing all of our travelers regardless of whether they are traveling in their home country or abroad—that we’re providing that same level of care we do for our international employees.”

During LeMaire’s research into the importance of duty of care for an organization, she learned she cannot discount the role liability plays in well-rounded travel programs.

“When it comes to the liability perspective, that is not what drove my company to put the program in place,” she says. “But when you have an incident and you are faced with a claim, it’s important as a company that you can prove that you conducted predeployment training.”

LeMaire acknowledges that building iRobot’s travel security program has been a long process filled with a lot of research and legwork, but that it’s paid off. For other companies looking to build or expand their travel policies, she recommends they partner with a firm that can provide risk assessments. LeMaire also recommends augmenting that with in-house training and policies. 

“All of our employees are thoroughly trained so that they are well aware of what our vision and strategy is in this company of promoting safe travel,” LeMaire says. 


Travel Best Practices​

Matthew Porcelli, CPP, security manager and consultant, sat down with Security Management to discuss ways to stay safe during travel, for those monitoring traveling employees and those traveling alike.

Be alert, especially at the airport. 

Airports are prime spots for bad actors to target unwitting travelers. Staying alert and under the radar is key, Porcelli says. He gives an example of a woman who was abducted by three people after getting off a plane in Thailand—even though she was surrounded by other passengers. 

“I saw the CCTV footage, and nobody even picked their heads up and looked,” he says. “Do not have tunnel vision.”

This is especially important because aggressors are constantly monitoring their surroundings looking for victims—and the best defense is to be just as vigilant.

“Aggressors will people watch,” he notes. “They are not dummies. They will know who to target and will do their research just like a security professional will.”

​Keep your documents safe. 

Travel document retention and security is especially important while traveling abroad, because losing such objects not only makes it difficult to fly back home but puts sensitive information in the wrong hands. 

“Don’t bring your passport out with you—make a copy of it to take out with you, keep the original locked in the hotel safe, and also keep copies at home and with your office coordinator,” Porcelli says.

He also recommends not leaving a business card or contact information in the plastic windows on luggage—that’s a good way to become a target.​

Do your own research—and make liaisons abroad. 

Even if an organization uses a travel and risk management company, it doesn’t hurt to stay up-to-date on current events in upcoming destinations. The Overseas Secular Advisory Council (OSAC) and the U.S. State Department also provide resources for travelers. 

Porcelli suggests networking with other professionals in potential travel destinations—that way you can check in with them about the climate of the region before you arrive. Additionally, using tools such as Google Earth ahead of a trip can help plan routes and quick exits if needed.