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ITIC MENA: Duty of Care roles and responsibilities of insurers and assistance companies

Sebastien Bedu, General Manager – GCC & Egypt, International SOS

Duty of care is about business continuity, legal compliance, a moral obligation, sustainability and reputation, said Sebastien. “A successful Duty of Care approach in securing business travellers’ health and safety is one that combines three key elements into an integrated and legally compliant DoC solution,” he continued. “Clear internal policies and procedures (including those related to risk management), a strong assistance service provider, and high levels of insurance, are key.”

International SOS’s experience indicates that a ‘prepare, prevent and support’ approach, combined with subsequent supporting tools, help organizations to protect their global workforce by addressing the needs of their travellers, including those traveling to risky locations.

In the current geopolitical landscape, managers should review the need for their workforce to travel and be prepared for the risk that onward travel may be delayed or not possible. For high-risk and rapidly changing environments with heightened health, logistical or security challenges, responsible managers should have access to information and advice enabling fast decision making and implementation of short-notice movement restrictions.

Planning should include access to actionable timely, validated and objective insights to support decision making. This is in addition to escalation triggers tied to organizational responses such as limiting travel to certain locations, enhancing the precautions taken by those in-country, training requirements for workforce or testing response plans.

“The tools help travelers and managers alike to understand certain risky events, plan for their impact and respond to them if they materialize,” said Sebastien. “Whether an organization develops such tools and approaches in house or outsource those to professional assistance companies is a matter of choice, but their application is vital for provision of duty of care in high-risks environments. A holistic approach to travel risk management and duty of care is essential. Medical and security assistance are combined to maintain and fulfill a company’s duty of care responsibilities.”

Charlotte Estipular, Business Development Manager, lga Assistance

“Duty of care is an obligation and a responsibility to ensure that everyone in the company is safe and protected from emotional and physical harm,” defined Charlotte. She then looked at the ways in which LGA had helped insurers to meet their duty of care obligations made in the insurance contract, allowing for relatively low-cost policies to meet the needs of the policyholders.

How the pandemic has affected duty of care is an interesting proposition, she continued. How the world dealt with the onslaught of Covid-19 in terms of tourism, with travel falling to 22 per cent of the levels seen in 2019, placed a lot of pressure on many businesses, including travel, insurance and healthcare. The company witnessed a significant increase in costs from clients hospitalized with Covid-19 during the pandemic, highlighting the importance of close medical network management. However, gradually, the world started to open up again, and with an increased focus on, and awareness of, travel insurance.

Moving on to a particular challenge lga has faced, Charlotte explained: “The third quarter of 2020 was when borders opened in Dubai, and one of the biggest insurers in Dubai signed a deal with lga. They were supporting a huge number of travel insurance clients, but they were low-cost policies.” The challenge for lga, therefore, was to maintain the quality of care and assistance they offered while lowering the cost for the payer. lga thus developed its HPAS – Healthcare Provider Auto-Selection System – which would direct a client to the correct facility that would meet the needs of the patient, thus fulfilling the company’s duty to their client, while simultaneously managing the costs of the case. The System collects data from medical providers, and then analyzes provider type, location, category, the financial benefits they offer, and also offers a monthly evaluation of the providers, allowing for ongoing management of the network. LGA also evaluates patient feedback from healthcare providers as well to ensure they are maintaining their contractual obligations.

Simon Isgar, Partner & Head of Insurance, BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates LLP

Simon offered attendees an insight into where duty of care lies from a legal perspective, pointing out that a company can’t ever really ‘remove’ a duty of care from another firm, but you can mitigate and share the burden, which is where insurance and assistance partners can provide their services to international companies to enable them to meet employee expectations and ensure compliance with their legal responsibilities.

Simon began by defining a duty of care as ‘the responsibility of a person or organization to take all reasonable measures necessary to prevent activities that could result in harm to other individuals/organizations and/or their property’.

There followed a case study that involved a UK company acquiring a business in the Middle East; Due to foreign direct investment law requirements, the ME operations are majority owned by a local UAE company. The UAE operations holds medical insurance coverage. At the time of the sales transaction, the regional managing director was suffering mental health issues. During the sales transaction, there were issues with banking transfers from the UK and monies were not received in time for salaries to be paid. Subsequently, the regional managing director committed suicide.

The duty of care aspect in this case was wide, said Simon, which opened the door for claims both in the UK and Dubai as a result of dual employment contracts. Lessons to be learned from this case, Simon said, include highlighting the importance of proper due diligence content and procedures (including health assessments – potentially by an assistance company). The involvement of an international assistance company could have served to mitigate a lot of the duty of care risk and burden in this situation through enhanced due diligence procedures.

“Are you covered or not?” asked Simon. “Always assess legal risks, and simplify potential legal impact in a simple and clear manner for decision making.” Employer’s liability insurance is a way to mitigate the risk to the insurer and the employer in the event that something goes wrong; While it is not mandatory at this stage in Dubai, this is likely to become so soon.

“It’s all about mitigation,” Simon concluded. “Duty of care as a burden will always be there, but understand the local jurisdiction and understand how this could affect you as an international company.”

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