Four things companies need to know about protecting employees during times of crisis


Angelique Montalto: Companies aren’t relieved of their duty to care for the wellbeing of their employees.

Are companies relieved of their duty to care for the wellbeing of their employees during this lockdown period? Not so, says Angelique Montalto, Regional Sales Director at SAP Concur.

"Organisations owe it to their employees to keep them safe either while working remotely or travelling on official company business. In times of major disruption or heightened risk, companies need to take all necessary measures to ensure they can meet the necessary duty of care obligations and keep their employees informed and away from harm while they are operating on behalf of the organisation.”

Duty of care refers to a company’s moral and legal responsibility to care for the wellbeing of its employees during the course of business. In South Africa, duty of care obligations are guided by the statutory requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. In terms of the act, the CEO of every employer is liable for contraventions and can be fined or criminally convicted if found negligent.

“This puts pressure on companies to meet their duty of care obligations,” says Montalto. "Businesses should know where their people are, whether far away or close to the office, and must be able to alert employees during a crisis, provide them with any assistance they may need, and keep open lines of communication until everyone is safe.”

Montalto believes there are four things companies need to bear in mind during this time to ensure they live up to their duty of care obligations, namely:

1. You need to know where your teams are during a crisis
In one study, 77% of finance leaders said they were not confident they could quickly and accurately pinpoint employees during an emergency. “This exposes employees and the employer to significant risk, especially during the types of global crises we’re experiencing in 2020. Companies need to take all reasonable steps to find traveling employees and track their progress home until they are brought to safety.”

2. You need to be able to communicate with teams throughout a crisis
According to Montalto, companies often fail at communicating with employees that are affected by a crisis. “Organisations need a reliable, secure way to directly and instantly communicate with remote employees to warn them of potential risks, guide them through the crisis and ensure they can get to safety quickly and with as few issues as possible. It is simply not enough to send a static informative message but rather to elevate your duty of care platform to enable bi-directional communication for real-time coverage and protection.”

3. Employees notice when companies fall short in their duty of care obligations
"Alarmingly, one study found that 41% of employees that were near a natural disaster said they were never contacted by their company at all,” says Montalto. “Aside from possibly contravening their own duty of care obligations and opening the company up to legal issues, the experience for the employee is unlikely to lead to greater loyalty or productivity. Considering the importance of employee experience to talent retention and productivity, such companies may suffer reputational damage."

4. There are tools that help companies meet their duty of care obligations
Montalto says that there are powerful tools available for capturing and accessing real-time employee location data and communicating directly and securely. “SAP Concur enables companies to reliably communicate with employees regardless of the situation, and gives employers a single tool to monitor employee location and gain intelligence on country-specific travel disruptions or risks. Companies can also mitigate risks associated with business travel by conducting assessments and providing alerts pre-trip, during a journey and after.” 

In short, organisations need to consider a powerful employee risk management and safety communication solution that ensures employees are safe, no matter where they are. Organisations must also able to identify risks and assess their impact, pinpoint employees’ locations and know their travel plans using machine learning, leverage multiple options for two-way communications, and deploy local response teams if necessary.