The bleisure travel dilemma: who is liable?
Originally written for Black Marketing, Singapore
“Bleisure” travel is a linguistic blend of the words “business” and “leisure”, and refers to the combination of business travel and leisure time. Increasingly popular, the Travel Trends 2018 Report has found that nearly 60% of business travels in the United States were extended for leisure in comparison to only 43% in 2016. Bleisure trips can be a great opportunity to meet relatives and friends, do some sightseeing or just take the time to relax. Bleisure travelers have indeed revealed that they experience less stress and work more efficiently.
I too have enjoyed extending the occasional business trip to allow myself some free time. In fact, in my recent travels to Southeast Asia, I took time-off in Cambodia but couldn’t stop myself from wondering: if something happened to me – if for instance I got hit by a tuk tuk and needed to travel back home for medical reasons, who would be liable for the expenses?
Bleisure travel risks
The Jan/Feb 2018 Asia Pacific survey of International SOS and CAPA of corporate buyers revealed that employers are generally enthusiastic about giving employees the possibility to take bleisure trips. In theory, it costs companies very little as business travelers cover the finances and organize the extended trip themselves – including lodgings, food and activities. At the same time, it has a positive effect on the morale and increases overall employee satisfaction.
The danger however is that the eagerness to allow for bleisure trips to happen outweighs the willingness to seriously assess the possible risks for the company. Risks can include everything from flight delays and transportation strikes to pickpocketing or accidents. The question thus is; who is liable if the employee suffers injury or loss during the leisure part of the trip? What does and does not fall under the auspices of business travel?
Before authorizing bleisure trips, a company should ask the right questions. It should be aware of when the employee’s leisure part of the trip begins and ends, if the company’s travel policy covers leisure travel, if they should require employees to take out a private travel insurance, what type of leisure trip the employee is planning to take, etc.
Although companies need to protect their employees, they also need to protect themselves. A feasible way to go about this is would be to ask employees to sign an indemnity agreement prior to departure, which states that they will be held liable if they act outside of travel policy whilst on the business trip. This does nevertheless not prevent the company from letting the employee engage in leisure activities.
The best way for a company to protect itself is therefore to approach the situation with transparency and formality. It needs to provide clarification for what is outside and inside the shelter of the corporate umbrella.
Travel risk management program
The cost of failing to provide adequate care for employees can be exorbitant. It can result in excessive medical, transport or legal expenses, as well as a loss of productivity and morale. Not being able to deal with a situation of injury, illness or any other misfortunes for an employee on a bleisure trip might also harm the business’s reputation and credibility.
Businesses should therefore have a travel risk management program in place for bleisure trips. They should have a health, safety and security policy specific to business travel and provide travelers with safety and security information in order to increase awareness. They should further keep track on where their employees are and be able to reach out to them even during the leisure part of their trip. Finally, the company should always have an incident and crisis management plan in case things actually go wrong.
When are companies not liable?
The company is liable as long as the traveler stays within travel policy. It all therefore depends on whether the company’s travel policy and/or insurance cover allows for leisure activities. In the case a break is not allowed, the company and its insurance will not be liable for what happens to the traveler during the leisure part of their trip.
Even though allowing bleisure activities can be risky for a company, it is a highly valued and increasingly popular addition to the business trip. Companies should therefore, for the wellbeing of their employees and by extension of the business, allow such activities to take place.
All things considered, a company can choose whether or not it wants to be liable for what happens during the business traveler’s leisure time. However, in the case that it decides not to, it is imperative to make sure that employees get comprehensive travel insurance before going on a trip.