By definition, duty of care is an organisation’s obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of their employees – to avoid and actively protect employees from foreseeable injury. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? However, the world of global mobility opens up considerations and potential exposures to duty of care risks that may not be immediately apparent.
Safety vs well-being
Firstly, there’s the definition of ‘safety’ and ‘well-being’, and determining what measures are needed to proactively prevent risks. Safety can mean anything from having a plan to evacuate employees and their families in the event of political instability to ensuring that employee personal data is secure when being distributed to vendors to support the move.Well-being, on the other hand, is a little harder to define. Relocating is a stressful period, and the industry is rife with tales of failed moves, tearful spouses and children who are not adjusting to their new location. It’s arguable that taking every action to prevent the disruption and stress to the employee and their family also falls within the scope of the company’s duty of care.
Secondly, there’s the scope of the company’s obligations. Obviously, the employee themselves is within the scope of the obligations, but what about the employee’s family? As soon as any part of the employee’s move or assignment package includes support for the accompanying family – as little as a flight for a spouse or assistance in obtaining a dependent visa – the family’s move is being ‘supported’ by the company and the company is responsible for the family’s safety and well-being throughout the assignment or the relocation period.
Legal, ethical and customary requirements
Thirdly, there’s the blurred line between legal, ethical and customary requirements, both in the home and host locations:
- Legally, companies are not only tied to providing the level of care imposed by legislation but also that under common law and case law precedent. Every company should work with a legal advisor to determine their obligations in their countries of operation, as these can change significantly from country to country and shift rapidly with events such as changes in political situations or even seasons of the year.
- Duty of care also encompasses an ‘ethical’ aspect, dependent on the cultural and social expectations of both the origin and destination countries – with ethical duty of care, it’s not only about what’s right from a moral sense, but also about what is commonly expected, and may change depending on current world events. It could be said that, when an employee is offered an assignment to a new location, there is a common expectation that they will be supported in getting to and from the new location and provided with a certain level of support during the assignment. This is interlacing duty of care with your mobility policy and actually creating exposure for the company based on the support offered under policy.
- Your company’s risk profile and corporate culture can also play a role in defining duty of care, looking at whether you are focused on the legal requirements, ethical expectations, or a combination of both. Your wider corporate culture – how you support your local employees, your approach to working conditions, focus on employee well-being – can set precedent and expectations for the level of support needed when moving or assigning employees.
Duty of care should be the obligation of the entire organisation – from the CEO to the intern. For mobile employees, this needs to be a joint effort supported by HR, Legal, Operations, Risk Management, Travel and Finance. If your organisation does not have a formal or centralised duty of care policy, it should be built into travel policies, mobility policies, global benefit programs and risk or emergency response policies. Additionally, if your employees go to hardship locations, a security policy that includes provisions for ‘high threat’ locations – such as candidate suitability checks, culture and security training, car and driver or housing in a secure compound – is also essential.
Proactively addressing duty of care
When you are thinking about measures you can take to proactively address duty of care for your mobile employees, you may need to think outside of the box – beyond just ensuring basic personal safety – and consider everything from:
- Providing the employee with the support of vendors to help them through the move, giving them a safe, secure supply chain to minimise stress whilst ensuring employees don’t put themselves at risk by choosing unsafe vendors
- Ensuring safety of personal information falls under the employer’s duty of care obligations. For example, show your employees’ personal data is shared with your vendors and utilised
- Ensuring your benefits package includes the core components that employees are going to need to alleviate stress and keep the employee safe, including small nuances such as winter driving courses for employees moving to cold climates for the first time
- Providing the employee and their family with adequate medical and other insurances for their time in the host location, based on home and host location laws, customs and expectations
- Having a well-planned emergency response plan to support employees through anything from natural disasters to political instability or terrorist attacks
- Ensuring that your budgets and spend limits are structured to allow employees to make safe choices for themselves and their families. For example, placing a flat USD 200 per night limit on temporary accommodation may be fine for a single employee, but for a family of four will result in the employee potentially living in an unsafe or undesirable situation
The first step to ensuring the safety and well-being of your mobile employees is knowing where they are and what they’re doing. Depending on your volume, tracking can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or as complex as a GPS based travel tracker, and it’s estimated that the costs of establishing a tracking software system pay off somewhere between 50 to 100 employee volume mark. Your relocation management provider should also be able to provide you with real time data on where your employees are based. Wherever your population data is coming from, it’s crucial that it’s available to you instantly, 24/7 and online from anywhere in the world order to make it valuable for emergency situations. This is especially important during emergency situations when swamped telecommunication networks in the aftermath of natural disasters, terrorist attacks and atypical incidents worldwide only add to the chaos.
At the core, duty of care is about making sure your mobile employees are safe and healthy, both physically and emotionally, and the relocation or assignment process is no different. Constantly bearing this in mind when building and assessing your mobility program can be challenging, especially on the international stage, but it is absolutely crucial to ensure your company is not at risk.