Travelling for work: Gen Y wants to holiday with work, but employers could be liable

Young workers are footloose and keen to see the world.

According to a study released this morning by Expedia, those under 34 are nearly twice as likely as their older colleagues to travel for business, and when they do, they’re significantly more likely to take the chance to do a bit of sightseeing.

Well over half (59%) of Australians under 34 extend their business trips into personal holidays, while 45% of those over 35 do the same.

This poses a unique risk for managers, who bear legal and potentially moral liability for what happens to their workers on work trips. Where does their responsibility end?

Steve Bell, the leader of the work health and safety practice at Herbert Smith Freehills, tells SmartCompany overseas travel is always a risk, and employees are entitled to workers compensation coverage if they are injured while at work or during an activity associated with work.

“There’s a large history of workers being injured overseas while in hotel rooms or in driving hire cars where the employer has been held liable,” he says.

“The High Court looked at this recently, and said maybe the law went too far.”

In a recent case decided in the High Court after four years of legal wrangling, Comcare was found not liable after one of its employees injured herself while having sex in her hotel room (the light fitting fell on her head).

“The full High Court dealt with it, and said you are liable if you send a worker travelling for injuries occurred in a place you direct the employer to be, or in an activity you’ve encouraged or induced.

“The High Court said employers should make clear what they’ll encourage or allow, and that’s quite distinct.”

If a worker is combining a work trip with a day of sight-seeing, Bell says it’s important to have written documentation that makes clear when the work trip starts and finishes.

“If you have to define that two days will be work, two days pleasure and then another two days will be work, you should do that,” he says. “I don’t think you’d need a formal contract, but the employer should be able to point to a record that confirms when the work started and finished.”

Travel always bears some risks, and businesses which frequently send workers out-of-office need to have a formal policy on what they encourage and what they do not, Bell says.

“Your travel policy should incorporate some risk management thinking into what goes wrong. You should outline what you’ll allow and what you won’t allow, and what employees need to do and where they should go if anything goes wrong.”

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