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Duty of Care Continues to Morph

Standards continue to shift around duty of care and employers’ responsibilities for the safety and wellbeing of employees. There are a couple of statistics that, when correlated, may raise questions about duty of care obligations relating to an employee’s commute.


In New York City, NYPD data shows that transit crime was up nearly 50% in January 2024 compared to the year before. And despite the remote or hybrid workplace models that remain in a post-pandemic world, almost 60% of employees work fulltime in the office.


The impact of commuting on employee wellbeing can be substantial – especially when there is increased concern about personal safety in transit.


Although companies do not generally hold responsibility for their staff while they are commuting, proactive employers are looking for ways they can better prepare workers to manage risks during their commute. There is an opportunity to raise security awareness that can ease the minds of employees while helping fulfill the broader obligations of employer duty of care.


Workforce security training is a potent tool for employers especially if it covers Situational Awareness and Cognitive Biases that interfere with life-safety decisions.


Situational Awareness training helps people recognize hazards and potentially make better decisions to minimize harm.


For example, a simple practice to increase Situational Awareness related to commuting is:  Don’t dampen senses by wearing headphones while on public transportation or walking to/from the office. Walk down busier, well-lit streets when traveling off-hours to better observe surroundings.


Cognitive Bias training increases the understanding of the inherent mental shortcuts that can distort judgment and hinder objective decision-making. Most people have never been in a crisis and have no experience in making life-safety decisions. Security training that covers Normalcy Bias, for example, is most effective when there are real cases that illustrate how reasoning errors impact decisions and limit options.


For example, a commuting employee is seated in their usual crowded, boisterous subway car when a verbal altercation becomes heated. This executive has never experienced an act of violence during their commute so when a gunshot rings out, they think it’s a benign noise from the train track. The employee is now trapped in a situation because they never considered that the situation was escalating to the point that required action on their part (to move/get off the train), and didn’t cognitively process the life threatening sound of a gunshot. Proper training raises awareness of these biases and offers strategies to overcome them.


Progressive employers seek ways to build a culture of safety and support the wellbeing of their workforce at the office and in their own personal lives. They offer education that empowers employees to recognize threats and make sounder decisions in the unlikely event of an emergency. That’s duty of care.


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