The COVID-19 pandemic revealed that many companies lacked effective emergency communication plans with their employees on relocation or assignment. The situation was fluid and communication, too often, was neither timely nor adequate. Some employees made emergency decisions on their own with little assistance or resources.
Some employees and their families left their belongings in the host location in a rush to get back home—only to discover they would be gone indefinitely. Other assignees could shelter in their host location, but they lacked the space and resources to work from home effectively. Higher frequency and quality communications would have assisted these employees in making crucial decisions with less work disruption.
Employees should be able to access written policies and guidelines regarding common law duty of care to employees 24/7, no matter where they are living. Companies should be prepared to push out emergency email blasts, texts to mobile devices and voicemails when urgent contact is necessary. These communications should include practical emergency response plans for employees and their families. This information will help expatriates feel more secure while reinforcing sound decision-making and effectiveness in an emergency.
Finally, all corporate stakeholders must align with company communication protocols and the content of company-wide communications. This includes leadership, the human resources and global mobility teams, and the legal and travel departments. Ensuring everyone understands and agrees to the protocols will increase the likelihood they will follow policies and make good decisions if an emergency arises.
Open communication with relocating employees is critical, but it is just as essential to keep lines of communication open with all employees who travel for business on behalf of the company. As we emerge from the pandemic, business travel will begin to recover. Business travelers may have reservations about flying, attending in-person conferences and resuming other public activities.
Companies should review their travel policies, consider any lessons learned from the pandemic and revise the policies as appropriate. Business travelers should feel assured that the company has their best interests in mind and act to mitigate risks as appropriate.
Knowing Where Your Employees Are
To fulfill its duty of care obligation, the company must know where its employees, and if applicable, their families, are located during a domestic or international relocation, while they are on assignment and while they are traveling for business. The need to know includes even holiday or vacation travel for employees and families on international assignment.
If this sounds rather “big brother,” this is a case where the right to privacy must yield to security considerations, not to mention the company’s immigration and tax compliance obligations. Companies should maintain copies of all travel itineraries, important immigration documents and emergency contact details.
Companies with larger relocating employee populations often use specialized global mobility technology and apps to keep track of their employees. If the population is small, a simple spreadsheet might be sufficient. More important than the method is ensuring that the company has some tracking system in place, maintains it regularly and ensures that it is secure.
Ensuring that all the stakeholders understand and comply with company travel and employee relocation policies is critical. Compliance can be challenging in large, decentralized companies, with divisions that might react to urgent needs and deploy employees without following the proper procedures. Again, communication is vital.
The company’s duty of care policies and procedures should be well-known throughout the organization and enforced from the executive level on down. This transparency will have the additional benefit of reducing the number of “surprise” assignments that are so frustrating for those in corporate HR and talent mobility.
Employers who relocate employees and their families, deploy them on international assignments or ask them to travel for business have a legal and ethical responsibility for their safety and well-being.
To learn more about what the common law duty of care to employees includes beyond effective communication protocols, download this eBook.