laptop bag

Are business travellers liable for lost tech?

Tired, burdened with luggage, and perhaps rushing through a foreign airport, it’s easy for a business traveller to lose or damage their gear, be it personal possessions or business property.

But how can businesses protect themselves? And who is responsible for the financial cost of replacing a device such as a laptop or mobile phone owned by their employer?

As a rule, responsibility is with the employee, says Steve Pritchard, an HR consultant for Anglo Liners: “This can often depend on the circumstances surrounding the missing item, but in most cases, the employee in possession of business property will be responsible for the loss of, or any damages to it,” he says.

However, there are obvious exceptions. He adds: “For example, if you are travelling via air and an item you placed in the hold gets lost or goes missing during the flight… the airline should be paying for any losses the business incurs. This is different from the employee leaving the item unattended or failing to look after the item with an appropriate amount of care.”

Make it clear

Employment law specialist Peninsula says companies must make it clear to staff in their employment contracts if they will be responsible for damage to work property. This is then used as the basis for employers to ask a member of staff to cover the cost of any damages.

Ellis Whittam, another employment law specialist, adds that without such a contractual clause, employers must seek the employee’s written consent to cover the costs.

Also, the cost of replacing tech may not be the only headache for the employee. Some company disciplinary rules state that employees can be disciplined for damage caused to company property through neglect.

Get covered

While you may think all companies would have insurance that covers staff on overseas trips – including loss or damage to laptops – a survey by insurer Ageas found that nearly one in five SMEs that travel for business have no specialist insurance policy in place.If your company does have insurance, your HR policies need to clearly state any responsibilities you place on employees. For example, that all equipment should be kept secure, otherwise the insurance could be invalid; and laptops may have to be taken as hand luggage if the individual is travelling by air.

More than just a new laptop or phone

The cost of losing a business device can be more than just the replacement of the technology, but also time lost, and crucially, the risk of data breaches. A 2015 report by PwC found that the most serious data breaches cost UK small businesses on average between £75,000 and £311,000.

The Information Commissioner’s Office suggests you should formulate a procedure for taking laptops out of the office. This should include points regarding the information that may be taken off-site, security of passwords and keeping the laptop in view or secured at all times.

Plan ahead

The potential damage – both financial and reputational – from losing or damaging work technology, means that companies should plan ahead. So remember:

  • Make it clear in employment contracts if staff will be responsible for damage to work property
  • Ensure your business insurance covers devices taken on business trips. HR policies need to clearly state any responsibilities your cover places on employees
  • Formulate a policy on what data can be taken off-site, and how it should be protected


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Mariette Ferreira

Mariette Ferreira

Mariette heads up marketing at FairFX. She loves travelling, scuba diving and South Africa, but she's yet to combine all three in one.

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