Is Airbnb a risky option for business travel?

With the emergence of new online platforms such as Airbnb, employers are more frequently using these services for business accommodation for their travelling employees. Over 700,000 companies worldwide have signed up and used Airbnb for business travel to date, with 300% growth in bookings from 2016 to 2017 and again from 2017 to 2018. As more and more employees use Airbnb in the course of work-related travel, we consider the potential legal ramifications of this and ask the question:

What kind of unique work health and safety risk hazards does Airbnb pose when compared with traditional accommodation? And how can employers mitigate that risk?

Employers should consider the risks of each location that employees are deployed to on business trips. One of the potential issues with utilising less regulated accommodation platforms is that safety standards may not meet the high standards of hotels and serviced apartments. Online accommodation platforms are not subject to the same safety regulations and instead typically fall under the scope of local laws. Guests are often reliant on individual hosts adhering to local laws, regulations and Airbnb policies.

For example, a recent study in the United States revealed that many Airbnb properties do not contain safety equipment including smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers and first aid kits, potentially putting guests at risk in the event of an emergency. And who’s liable?

To mitigate the risks associated with using such platforms for business travel, employers should have a well drafted Corporate Travel Policy, that steps out the parameters for using these services for work related travel.

A Corporate Travel Policy should consider (among other things):

  • Whether accommodation needs to meet certain security and safety standards to be booked;
  • Provision of contact details for the property including the address and land line details;
  • The minimum requirement for employee communication;
  • Whether the employer should arrange or has the appropriate insurance covering employees use of these platforms; and
  • A contingency plan in case of emergency.

Whether an employee’s accommodation is booked through Airbnb or some other means, it is important to have a well drafted policy which considers the reasonably foreseeable risks an employee might be exposed to when travelling, and the reasonably practicable measures that can be taken to minimise these risks. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact Nick Stevens, Jane Murray or Angharad Owens-Strauss.

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