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Small Business Digest


Dangers Lurk for Employees Abroad, and Firms Must Provide Protection

Companies that ask employees to travel or live abroad must make those staffers' health, safety and security a top priority.

In a recently published white paper, International SOS has outlined methods that firms should implement in order to help their international staff avoid risk.

The report includes an analysis of 300 global companies’ travel-itinerary data and provides business leaders with the risk-management information and tools they need to protect their most important asset.

“Many companies are overwhelmed when it comes to the issue of duty of care,” says Suzanne Garber, chief operating officer, International SOS, Americas Region, in a prepared statement.

Often, she says, “an organization already has some of the resources to create a successful duty-of-care program; it’s just about bringing the right people - company leadership, human-resources experts, security professionals, travel managers - to the table to develop a collaborative approach.”

Garber says many organizations are operating across borders without clear knowledge of their responsibilities to their employees.

According to the report, companies must take into account the unpredictability of the global environment when asking their employees to cross borders and operate in remote locations. Preparedness and planning are the two traits emphasized by International SOS in its integrated risk-management approach to duty of care.

The white paper, titled “Duty of Care of Employers for Protecting International Assignees, Their Dependents and International Business Travelers,” advises that the best companies don’t wait for an emergency or a lawsuit to occur before putting in place a support system for employees.

“Arguments for prevention far outweigh the costs of implementing a program to prevent employee injury or death, litigation or loss of corporate reputation,” writes Dr. Lisbeth Claus, Ph.D., a professor of global human resources at the Atkinson Graduate School of Management of Willamette University in Salem, Ore., who prepared the report.

Real-life crises described in the paper include that of an employee, his wife and two contractors who died after the boat they chartered capsized in Bahrain and that of an expatriate's wife falsely accused of shoplifting in Dubai who was held several hours by security officers without being allowed to contact anyone for help.
“Prevention and mitigation of risks to international assignees is the responsibility of an enterprise, along with the cooperative and integrated efforts of its senior managers, line managers, risk managers and global HR unit,” writes Claus, the report’s author. “To ignore this issue is to ignore legal, commercial, fiduciary and social responsibilities.”

Other key points of the paper include a review of pertinent legislation and case law summarizing 36 cases in nine countries with information from the European Union and International Labor Organization; reasoning as to why duty of care is fragmented within most organizations; and a cost-benefit analysis tied to a discussion of corporate social responsibility.

Leading up to the release of the paper, International SOS held rountables spearheaded by Claus and attended by business leaders in New York, Boston, Chicago and other major cities.

International SOS helps organizations manage the health and safety risks facing their employees who live and travel abroad. For more information, visit

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