With same-sex relationships still considered a criminal offence in 70 countries, employers need to be mindful of the duty of care they have towards LGBTQ+ staff who travel abroad. Jenn McColly shares some good practice.
You can choose your holiday destination, but you often have little say about where you travel for work. In some countries in the Middle East, for example, migrant workers have been tested to determine their sex and in 2013, the Gulf Cooperative Countries, which includes countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and UAE, announced plans to ban LGBT foreigners from entering Gulf countries. The proposal was later dropped partly because of fears that it would jeopardise Qatar’s World Cup bid.
With the need for business travel on the rise, duty of care – an employer’s moral and legal obligation to ensure the safety or wellbeing of its staff – has received growing attention over the past few years. In the climate of increased globalisation, combined with mounting geopolitical and environmental issues that could affect travellers, there is now a better understanding of the topic by those in charge of travel.
Ensuring the safety of your employees should be paramount. When a job sends an employee to a country where their sexual orientation or how they identify is criminalised, it adds extra layers of complexity to ensuring an employer is meeting its duty of care responsibilities. Differing laws, views and cultures can make travel challenging for some, so it is essential that each individual knows they are being taken care of when travelling on their employer’s behalf.
As no two travellers are the same, how can you protect individuals travelling with different needs, in a way that doesn’t make people feel singled out?
It goes without saying that duty of care should apply to all employees when travelling for work. However, women and LGBTQ+ travellers are often faced with a multitude of safety and even legal issues when visiting certain countries. For example, 70 countries still criminalise same-sex relationships, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. Worryingly, these include increasingly busy business destinations in Asia and the Middle East.
When sending employees to countries that do not have the same values and attitudes as your business, there needs to be an awareness that there are tangible threats to LGBTQ+ employees. Staff who have disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity should be properly briefed and familiarised with the steps their organisation has in place, should anything go awry.
During the trip
Companies should also invest in technology that allows them to see where their employees are and when, for safety reasons. Encouraging employees to use app-based booking tools, like Uber for example, will provide real-time insight into their trip from airport to hotel.
This is not a Big Brother-style operation but rather allows a travel manager or travel management company (TMC) to ensure that they are able to communicate with an employee at a moment’s notice via email, text and or through an app, and be on hand to assist if needed.
This is where a robust and agile risk management programme will be invaluable. Meeting your commitment to all travellers can be achieved with accurate and consolidated data. For example, data from booking tools, your TMC, HR profiles, connected apps and location check-ins can give you the insights you need to support every employee, no matter how they booked their travel or where they are.
Staff who have disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity should be properly briefed and familiarised with the steps their organisation has in place, should anything go awry.”
For example, if an LGBTQ+ employee finds themselves in a situation where they feel unsafe or threatened, an active monitoring team can assist them anywhere, at anytime. Having contact via several different mediums allows monitoring teams to respond quickly and assist them to safety.
Build a relationship between HR and travel managers
A good relationship formed between HR and travel managers is crucial when ensuring that all employees are safe.
Having strong diversity and inclusion policies is vital and allow an organisation to beef up duty of care for all travellers, as well as the wider company culture.
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There is of course the issue that some employees may not wish to disclose their orientation and as such, confidentiality should be respected. Creating an LGBTQ+ network or advocate that an employee can contact if they don’t feel comfortable travelling to a particular location, but does not know how to approach their manager about it, can help them start a conversation they might find difficult to broach. Networks or advocates can also act as a resource for support and information before taking on overseas work.
There is also the perception that turning down such assignments will harm job prospects and career progression. HR teams should ensure employees are fully supported should they choose to turn down certain assignments.
An employer’s duty of care towards staff travelling abroad will continuously evolve as laws change internationally, and it will need to be part of wider business policy that senior leadership must buy into. The risks of not doing looking after its most valuable resource – its people – can have serious consequences for both employers and individuals.