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Your 6-step emergency plan for traveling employees

Do you have an emergency plan for traveling employees?

An emergency can be as micro as a flat tire in the desert. It can be as macro as massive flooding brought on by a Category 4 hurricane. Or it can fall anywhere in between.

Bad things happen in the world. You ask your employees to travel in the world for company-related events. Ergo, some of those bad things will directly or indirectly impact your employees.

As the employer, how you choose to react, and how you choose to help and support your employees who encounter a crisis during business travel can win you a lifetime of loyalty or earn you a reputation as a company that cares only about the bottom line and not about your people.

Most organizations would prefer to be viewed as a company sensitive to the plight of their employees.

One way to achieve this is to ensure you have established a long-term standard in your recruiting to hire people who demonstrate decency and empathy.

The second key is to develop and circulate an emergency plan for traveling employees. Then effectively and repeatedly communicate that plan, so your people know what to do when the unexpected occurs.

Here’s how to do the latter:

Step 1: Plan for the unexpected.

While there’s a limit to how much advance planning you can do for an event you can’t anticipate, there are several steps you should take – beginning with the onboarding process – to help inform your employees what to do in the event of an emergency that occurs while traveling on company business.

Here’s some key information to incorporate into your crisis response plan:

Who does an employee contact if impacted by an emergency?

All employees should have at least two people – a primary and a backup – whom they can contact in the event of an emergency. Ensure they have the following contact information:

  • Name
  • Phone number
  • Email

What are the defined and essential duties of each person on your team?

Emergency response isn’t just about supporting the employee directly affected, but also ensuring your business can keep operating.

Understanding everyone’s responsibilities and having it on file will enable you to quickly and effectively divide the duties of the affected employee among the other team members.

Essential personnel are sometimes identified in the job description.

Communicate frequently with your team.

Emergencies are fluid events that require flexibility.

If you’ve informed your employees that they’ll need to take on extra duties to make up for the absence of a team member impacted by an emergency, check-in regularly:

  • Ask them for updates on this additional work.
  • Show your appreciation.
  • Make yourself available for questions.
  • Update them on how long they’ll be expected to continue working in emergency mode.

Step 2: Define an emergency.

What is, and isn’t, an emergency?

Define what your company considers an emergency, both on a large scale or for an individual. It’s important that you differentiate between varying levels of emergency. A catastrophic weather event will require more time for those impacted to adjust than something minor.

If the emergency leads to a fatality or long-term injury, you’ll need to consider the emotional well-being of your team and ensure that all tasks are completed in a timely manner.

Make your employees aware of counseling available to them through your Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Part of your advance planning for an emergency should factor in the scale of the event. Responses should be tailored based on the severity and duration of an emergency.

Step 3: Define what employees should do immediately after an emergency.

It’s the responsibility of employees to contact their supervisor as soon as possible in the aftermath of an emergency that takes place on company business.

Once they’ve had a chance to recover from the initial shock, they should inform you of what happened. Otherwise, it may delay the activation of your emergency plan for traveling employees.

After that initial point of contact, you should make a point to try to reach out at least once a day:

  • For updates
  • To show your support
  • To see if there is anything they need or that you can do.

This will open the lines of communication and help prepare your employees for any adjustments in assignments.

What should your other employees do? They will likely show an innate desire to help their co-worker, and if you choose to model a compassionate approach, they’ll follow your lead.

Depending on the particulars of the crisis, some employees can volunteer their time and resources to help in more personal ways, such as:

  • Starting a fundraiser
  • Making food
  • Driving family members to and from the hospital

This experience can strengthen the bonds on your team and potentially yield enhanced professional results in the future.

Step 4: Define what the employer should do immediately after an emergency.

The No. 1 priority for employers is to ensure the safety of their workforce. So, here’s a good rule of thumb when it comes to an emergency:

Do what’s right.

An organization that takes care of its employees greatly increases loyalty and enhances morale companywide. When leaders are visibly taking steps to care for employees, you’re sending a strong message to employees that you care.

However, it’s important to establish guidelines in advance. An employer should take different actions when responding to a minor emergency versus a major emergency. You need to decide:

  • What adjustments to make in the absence of one or more employees
  • How to mobilize resources to support them
  • How to coordinate with HR to ensure your affected workers continue to receive paychecks and benefits
  • When to begin the interactive process with the affected employee; can a reasonable accommodation be provided to re-engage the employee back into the workplace?

What if one of your employees is traveling on business and involved in an automobile accident (one of many examples you can discuss and plan for in advance)? You want to ensure the employee is getting the necessary medical treatment and arrange for transportation home.

Just as employees should know who to contact at work after an emergency, an employer should have a list of each employee’s primary and secondary emergency contacts. That way you can promptly inform them if an emergency occurs.

If the employee is hospitalized and can’t come home, you might consider arranging for a family or close personal friend, to join the employee during this time.

Step 5: Identify and follow laws and regulations.

While it’s in your company’s interests to do what’s right when helping employees after an emergency, it’s essential that your crisis response plan development team understand the legal requirements.

Make sure you’re fully versed in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regarding pay, work hours and other statutory regulations stemming from disasters. For example:

  • If a hurricane forces a business to shut down, that business isn’t required to pay non-exempt employees for those lost hours (if those employees don’t perform work remotely).
  • The Department of Labor has officially determined that a natural disaster that prevents an employee from safely traveling to work is an absence for personal reasons.
  • Employees are eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act if the employee or a family member suffers a serious health condition directly related to a natural disaster.

Your company needs to understand all the state and federal laws that pertain to employment following an emergency, so you maintain full compliance throughout. This Department of Labor website is a good place to start.

Step 6: Help employees recover.

Helping foster a return to normalcy after an emergency is just as important as supporting your employees during an emergency.

Crises will happen, and part of the recovery process is going back to work. This can offer the stability of a routine that will benefit many, but you should make sure your workforce (including those who weren’t directly impacted) are aware of the resources available to them.

If the crisis occurs during a business trip, ask your employees if or when they might feel comfortable scheduling their next business travel engagement. Different people will respond in different ways.

Counseling can be invaluable following a traumatic event. Talk directly with your employees, tell them you understand that this was an emotionally difficult time and provide them with the phone number and website of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP), if you offer one.

Most EAPs offer not only confidential counseling but ways to cope with stress, family issues and financial challenges, all of which can become problematic after an emergency.

For more information on how to create an emergency plan for traveling employees and related scenarios, download our complimentary magazine: The Insperity guide to crisis management.