July 31, 2023 | In the News

How Laws Targeting Abortion Access and LGBTQ People are Complicating Business Travel

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Two-thirds of Gen Z and millennials have changed their accommodations for a business trip because they felt unsafe, this corporate travel expert says.

Global business travel is expected to surge with 70% of business travelers saying that their work travel will meet or exceed pre-pandemic levels in 2023. The return is exciting after several years of tightened approvals for business trips due to the pandemic and inflation. Companies and employees are recognizing the value of meeting in person, reconnecting with their clients, and discussing opportunities with prospects and partners.

Advance preparation for business travel isn’t new. There have always been logistics around planning, booking, traveling, and filing an expense report for reimbursement. Duty of care or employee safety is always a key concern for the company, made especially difficult when employees are not working in the office. There has also been an explosion of legislation that directly impacts reproductive health and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

These laws become issues for companies as they work to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for their employees—and it’s one area that might be overlooked in corporate travel programs.

My company, Concur Travel, recently partnered with Wakefield Research to survey nearly 4,000 global business travelers on their business travel experiences. Here’s what company leaders need to be aware of to continue to advance safety initiatives.

Safety is certainly a priority for companies. But the threat during business travel is higher than expected. In the past 12 months, more than half (53%) of global business travelers have had to change their accommodations because they felt unsafe.

Younger employees especially have felt unsafe. In the past 12 months, almost two-thirds of Gen Z (64%) and millennials (61%) have changed their accommodations for a business trip because they felt unsafe. That’s compared to 40% of Gen X and 15% of boomers. A majority (85%) of boomers say they’ve never had to use this practice.

Those are staggering numbers, and employees should feel empowered to voice their concerns to travel or human resource departments, or directly with their managers. In fact, global business travelers cite safety (44%) and health (41%) as the biggest reasons to decline a business trip.

But it’s not just up to employees. Companies should closely monitor upcoming business trip destinations and any potential safety threats—whether related to crime, politics, or health—in the area. The U.S. Department of State’s Travel Advisories are a good resource. They assign four levels across more than 200 countries: exercise normal precautions, exercise increased caution, reconsider travel, and do not travel. For example, Ukraine and Russia are currently listed as “Level 4: Do Not Travel.”

Leaders need to have a contingency plan in place to drastically reduce the fear or discomfort their employees may experience on business trips. In the post-Roe landscape of anti-choice laws, they should scenario plan for the unique needs and risks each employee may face. Pregnant women, for example, or people with preexisting medical conditions may need more detailed medical contingency plans that outline nearby hospitals or clinics should they need immediate attention during their trip.

There’s a moral aspect to taking safety seriously but companies also have a legal requirement, which can vary by country, to protect traveling employees. The stakes are high, so companies should look to industry experts. Organizations like International SOS offer senior health and security experts to advise organizations on comprehensive plans and procedures in the event of an emergency. International SOS or Anvil Group also offer tools to track employee locations and communicate in a moment’s notice. Travelers can also use TripIt Neighborhood Safety Scores to monitor the risk of the destinations they’re visiting.

Organizations should also strongly weigh the risks of sending any employee to a destination where local legislation may put health and safety in jeopardy, and flexibility is essential if an employee expresses concern. In such cases, alternatives to business travel may be worth considering.

Certain travelers are more at risk of safety threats than others. The majority (90%) of global LGBTQ+ travelers have hidden their sexual identity on a business trip to protect their safety or privacy. More than a third (38%) were forced to hide their identity due to anti-LGBTQ+ laws in the region.

In the United States, over 520 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) declared a state of emergency in June for LGBTQ+ people due to an “unprecedented and dangerous spike in anti-LGBTQ+ legislative assaults sweeping state houses this year.”

Members of the LGBTQ+ community face serious threats, including when they travel to locations like Florida with anti-LGBTQ+ laws or beliefs. Companies need to evaluate this risk in advance and consult the HRC’s guidebook with health and safety resources, a summary of state-by-state laws, “know your rights” information, and resources designed to support LGBTQ+ travelers as well as those already living in hostile states.

For example, the HRC, the NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, and Equality Florida have all issued travel or relocation warnings for Florida due to anti-LGBTQ+ laws that create a hostile environment. In fact, HRC’s guidebook includes a full chart of anti-LGBTQ+ laws per state like bathroom bans or “Don’t Say LGBTQ+” laws that censor local curriculum or the acknowledgement of LGBTQ+ identity in the classroom. These laws don’t just pertain to local community members and students; they suggest an unwelcoming environment for LGBTQ+ business travelers.

While business travel can be a transformative, educative, and fulfilling experience for many, the treatment received while traveling can have many detrimental impacts on employee happiness and well-being. There are serious, yet addressable, safety issues in the experience of business travelers today.

The first step leaders should take is to listen and communicate with all employees and listen. By understanding the unique issues their employees have experienced or their unique concerns, leaders can assess the right path forward for their teams.

Source: Fast Company

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