International assignments, secondment abroad or long-term expatriation: due to increasing internationalization of business, more and more employees are becoming globally mobile. Providing reliable information and protecting workers abroad is the employer’s duty. This means assessing risks and implementing risk management. Ensuring expat employees’ safety abroad isn’t merely an ethical consideration, it’s an obligation: employer’s liability is more than ever a reality today.
Depending on the destination, an employee on assignment might be facing more or less serious health and/or safety risks both in home and work environments.
When assigning employees abroad, an employer must be aware of the health risks workers could be exposed to:
- infectious diseases (malaria, dengue fever…),
- accidents (risk varies greatly depending on how dangerous the employee’s job is),
- difficult access to quality healthcare due to lack of local medical facilities,
- difficult access to medication,
- other risks caused by the local environment (sanitary conditions, access to drinking water…).
International issues also can trigger additional risks for employees abroad. Geopolitical crisis situations create specific dangers for assignees:
Companies have the duty to inform and protect all employees they send abroad. To do so, they need to identify and asses risks (before and during the assignment) expats might face while abroad.
Employers are expected to provide assignees with information about the health and safety conditions in the host country. Safety instructions, practical information, intercultural training… It’s all about prevention and raising awareness. Quality information provided by the employer is:
- complete, not requiring employees to do any research on their own,
- provided before departure,
- adequate and up-to-date,
- in accordance with the Department of Foreign Affairs’ safety guidelines.
Duty of care
Companies must be able to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of staff on foreign assignment. Not only is duty of care an employer’s legal obligation but it’s also a moral and social responsibility. Employers must be aware that during their workers’ international assignments, the range of care obligations is wider than for domestic employees. Main duty of care requirements are:
- ensuring health,
- ensuring a safe work environment,
- protecting employees from all types of harassment,
- managing employee benefits
Lack of duty of care may be considered as negligence and any damages resulting can be claimed in a lawsuit.
Taking out insurance for employees abroad allows employers to protect workers and the company itself. By protecting international assignees, companies guard against risks of incidents for which they might have to bear liability. Also, many incidents abroad can have considerable financial consequences. Offering employees peace of mind, far from being a luxury, tends to be an effective way to improve productivity.