In a changing landscape where Covid-19 concerns are gradually fading, a different set of challenges is emerging for business travel as tighter abortion restrictions and anti-LGBTQ laws gain momentum in the United States. The aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has seen numerous states curtailing abortion access, while more than 180 bills restricting LGBTQ rights are advancing nationwide.
While criticism on political and civil rights grounds has led to state boycotts in the past, a new wave of conservative “anti-woke” messaging has made some companies hesitant to publicly support progressive causes. In response, some businesses are adopting a quieter approach to mitigate risks, as they reevaluate the safety of their employees.
Cierra Gross, CEO of Caged Bird HR, highlighted the importance of considering employees’ comfort and safety in states with exclusionary policies: “We think critically about who we are sending where and ask employees if they’re comfortable going.”
Despite advisories from civil rights groups and the Canadian government, some travel industry groups argue against boycotts, citing the adverse impact on hospitality workers and minority-owned businesses. Instead, they suggest public awareness campaigns as a more effective approach.
An April survey by SAP Concur revealed that 82% of LGBTQ+ business travelers changed accommodations due to safety concerns in the past year. This growing concern among employees is prompting companies and travel managers to revisit their policies, especially in scenarios such as medical emergencies in anti-abortion states or confrontations without gender identity protections.
Lauren Winans, CEO of Next Level Benefits, mentioned the adoption of no-retaliation policies to allow employees to express concerns or refuse travel to certain areas. Meanwhile, some companies are actively assessing risks in different regions and providing clear guidelines to their employees.
As the corporate focus shifts to mental and physical health and safety post-pandemic, companies are taking a more nuanced approach to their “duty of care.” However, many of these efforts remain discreet, reflecting the complexity of the issue and the diversity of business values.
Despite these evolving dynamics, it’s essential to recognize that not all businesses operate extensively across state borders or rely heavily on business travel. Moreover, an employer’s duty of care often intertwines with its political values, leading to a variety of responses.
The controversies surrounding abortion and LGBTQ rights have already influenced decisions in some areas. Greater Fort Lauderdale and Broward County, for instance, have seen over 17 groups citing “current Florida politics” and safety concerns as reasons for not booking conventions, resulting in significant revenue loss.
These challenges underscore the delicate balance between business interests, political values, and employee safety in an evolving landscape.