Employers Face Legal Obligations for Traveling Employees

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Our corporate clients often benefit from speaking with other professionals outside the legal industry. As such, we offered the opportunity to our good friend, Bernie Heer of Frenkel Benefits, to be a guest blogger on our Immigration Blog. Bern is an employee benefits and self-funding expert and advisor to businesses across the country, bringing over 30 years of experience in the health insurance industry. His focus is helping employers to create benefit packages that deliver lower costs, as well as better outcomes and better care for employees and their family members.

Business travel and international operations are part of many companies’ operations. Business travel can be as simple as an employee driving a short distance to a client’s location or as complex as relocating an employee, along with their spouse and children, to a foreign country. Companies must be aware of their obligations to protect these employees and their spouses and children.

In the US and many other countries, the core legal tenet that outlines this obligation is called Duty of Care. Simply put, Duty of Care is a moral and legal obligation employers have to protect the health, safety, and security of their employees, especially those traveling on behalf of the employer.

Let’s take a look at a company that is facing both of these issues:

A New Jersey-based market research company looking to expand its footprint overseas decides to send one of its key executives–a US citizen–and his wife to London for a two-year stint to start up their office there. At the same time, they send another of their executives–an Italian citizen who has been living in the US for many years–and his wife and children to Geneva to establish a presence on the European mainland.

Other employees of the company travel to Asia, South America, and the Middle East to meet with clients and expand the company’s business.

To successfully satisfy the duty-of-care obligations this company has for has for these employees and their dependents, the company must develop a program following these four basic steps:

Assess Travel Exposures

The first step is to assess their global travel exposures, which includes gathering information on all destinations to which employees travel. Unique risks and exposures for long-term assignees require special consideration compared to the needs of short-term travelers.

Create Travel Policies

Employers must develop strategies to address the travel exposures they have identified. Selecting travel management companies, airlines hotels, and ground transportation, as well as ensuring good communication are all part of the corporate travel policy. Implementing the right kind of insurance policies is also critical. Often overlooked is appropriate health insurance coverage. “Differences in health care systems, processes and cultures from country to country, combined with ever-changing requirements for business travelers entering various countries, make global health insurance a complex area, says Bern Heer, a consultant who works with companies on international benefit plans. “In addition,” says Heer, “typical US health plans do not provide for emergency and medical evacuation, which could be interpreted as a failure to meet Duty of Care obligations in the case of a catastrophic event.

Prepare Employees for Travel

It is crucial that all employees be educated about the company’s travel policies and be provided pre-trip information about the destination, including information about customs, cultural norms, political risks, medical care standards, local emergency numbers, and global assistance resources. The more information an employee has, the better prepared they will be to address situations that may arise during their travel or assignment.

Know Where Employees Are and Communicate

The ability to communicate with traveling employees during a crisis is essential to managing the company’s risk. In a natural disaster or political unrest situation, mobile phone and email may not be available. Real-time communication is necessary in the event of an urgent crisis.

Employers should remain alert to changes in their legal obligations and responsibilities related to their duty of care for employees who travel domestically and internationally. Proper planning is essential to develop and implement a successful duty-of-care program. For more information, feel free to contact me at bheer@frenkel.com. If you have any questions about this topic or any other immigration matter, feel free to contact Ray Lahoud at rglahoud@norris-law.com.

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