Abortion bans and anti-LGBTQ laws are complicating business travel

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Business trips are returning to 2019 levels as concerns about Covid-19 largely subside. But as stricter abortion restrictions and anti-LGBTQ laws proliferate, some employers and event organizers are weighing a new set of threats to employee safety outside the office.

Dozens of states have drastically cut access to abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and more than 180 bills restricting LGBTQ rights are moving forward in statehouses across the country. Many of these measures have drawn criticism on political and civil rights grounds, with businesses and event organizers threatening state boycotts similar to the one that led North Carolina to repeal its 2016 anti-transgender bathroom law.

But lately, conservative “anti-woke” messages has done many companies more reluctant to publicly ally themselves with progressive causes. Some are now taking a quieter approach to mitigating risks, business travel planners and human resources experts say.

“We think critically about who we send where and ask employees if they feel comfortable going to a state that has shown they are not inclusive of people with certain identities,” said Cierra Gross, CEO of Caged Bird HR, a management firm. consultancy. “We could be putting someone’s physical and psychological safety at stake in some of these states.”

We think critically about who we send where and ask employees if they feel comfortable going.

Cierra Gross, CEO of Caged Bird HR

While civil rights groups (and the canadian government) have notices issued warning of the risks of the legislation, some travel industry groups and local advocates They have rejected boycotts, arguing that they hurt hospitality workers and minority business owners and rarely change policies. Last month, California lawmakers voted to repeal a ban about state workers using public funds to travel to 26 states with anti-LGBTQ policies, replacing it with a public awareness campaign.

In a survey from AprilExpense platform SAP Concur found that 82% of LGBTQ+ business travelers had changed accommodations at least once in the past 12 months because they felt unsafe, compared to 70% of US business travelers. .in general and 53% of those around the world.

For many workers, these concerns are nothing new: many have long had to be especially aware of their safety with little or no support from employers. However, for companies and travel managers there is now a growing “sense of importance and urgency” to review their policies, said Charlie Sultan, president of Concur Travel.

The last time it happened on a large scale was when Covid-19 hit, forcing companies to review policies supporting what is known as their “duty of care” to keep employees safe at work.

While most companies now have protocols in place to manage Covid exposure, some are just beginning to grapple with other scenarios: What if a pregnant employee has a medical emergency while traveling in an anti-abortion state? Or is a trans employee facing confrontation somewhere without public protections for gender identity?

Lauren Winans, CEO of Next Level Benefits, a human resources consulting firm, said some of her corporate clients have begun keeping lists of potentially problematic destinations for workers to visit. Others are adopting anti-retaliation policies “that allow employees to express concerns, set limits or refuse to travel” to certain areas, she said.

Construction bidding platform PlanHub is “carefully evaluating potential risks tied to the legal and political landscape in various regions,” said Kimberly Rogan, the company’s chief people officer and head of people operations. “We have refined our guidelines to better inform employees about these factors and provide clear instructions on how to navigate them.”

These efforts coincide with a broader post-pandemic focus on physical and mental health and safety, said Daniel Beauchamp, head of global business consulting for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at American Express Global Business Travel.

As those concerns become “front and center in corporate consciousness,” some U.S. and international employers are taking a “more nuanced” approach to their duty of care, he said.

But human resources professionals say few of the companies taking these measures are making them public, and the change is far from universal.

Many companies do not operate widely across state lines or rely heavily on business travel. And it is often impossible to disentangle an employer’s duty of care concerns from his political values, which can cut both ways anyway. Some conservative groups and companies have long asked meeting planners to book meetings in like-minded states, and vice versa for liberals.

Certain areas say they are seeing a setback due to the new laws, even as business travel recovers.

Between May, the month Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded what critics called a “Do not say gay” law — and in mid-September, more than 17 groups cited “current Florida politics” and safety as reasons for not booking conventions in Greater Fort Lauderdale and Broward County, despite the local reputation for inclusivity, according to the group. tourism Visit Lauderdale.

That list includes the National Retail Network, the American Specialty Toy Retail Association, the University of Southern Mississippi and others, said Stacy Ritter, executive director of Visit Lauderdale. She estimated the community has lost more than $98 million in revenue.

“This is not an economic issue where you can offer a group more money to help fund their conference,” Ritter said. If people don’t feel welcome in the state, she said, “there’s very little that can be done.”

A spokesperson for DeSantis dismissed concerns about the loss of business travel as “nonsense,” saying “Florida’s economy is booming,” and the state welcomed a quarterly record of nearly 38 million visitors earlier this year. .

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