How can HR protect the safety of globally mobile employees?

Paris is a key city for companies looking to relocate.
Photo: Xavier Francolon/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

Employees are posted to ever more countries, yet threats like natural disasters, terrorism and medical endemics loom large. What can HR do to protect the safety of global assignees, asks Tim Wells?

More than half of organisations (50.7%) have experienced an incident at some point where the health and safety of someone on a global assignment, or their accompanying dependents, was affected, according to the 2015 Global Mobility Survey.

It also found that 21.8% of organisations had experienced such an event in 2015 alone, double the number in 2014.

As employees are posted to an increasing number of countries, the global terrorist threat is heightened. Not only that, but we have faced more natural disasters and medical endemics, such as Ebola, meaning that the safety of globally mobile employees has become a priority for global HR teams.

As well as greater complexity from a personal safety perspective, there is a greater need to focus on compliance risks.

Over the last decade, there has been a rise in the number of audits particularly around the top two issues of immigration and taxation, with severe consequences for non-compliance.

Furthermore, the focus on personal safety is no longer restricted to locations traditionally considered “higher risk”. The recent horrific attacks in Paris and Brussels highlight the increased security risk from terrorist organisations in European cities.

Such incidents reaffirm the need for employers to know which employees are where, and how to contact them if an incident occurs to ensure their safety, as well as how to react in emergency situations.

An assessment of security and compliance risks should be carried out as soon as an international assignment is planned, and throughout the assignment period. Let’s look at what measures can be taken to reduce these risks.

Personal security and health

  • Ensure you have in place a duty of care (or security) policy to cover pre-departure and on- location training for the employee (and family where appropriate).
  • Put together a crisis management team to oversee the implementation of the action plan (as detailed within the security policy).
  • Appoint a nominated emergency contact for the employee.
  •  Arrange appropriate medical insurance and evacuation cover.
  • For high-risk locations, take in-country precautions (such as armed escorts, enhanced insurance and security features in their workplace and home).


Work closely with your corporate travel provider or expense management team to regularly review where employees have been travelling to and for how long.

This will enable the management of any compliance risks before issues arise, particularly around immigration and tax requirements both prior to and during the trip.

Before the assignment

  • Assess the risk in the host location. Using data from third-party data providers and government departments, assess any security considerations which need factoring into the relocation package.
  • Determine whether the expat’s family will be accompanying them. Research indicates that families often remain at home where the expat is assigned to a high-risk area which may also not have appropriate schooling options or accommodation for families (on a compound for example).
  • Provide security briefings to the expat and their family so they have a clear understanding of the potential risks and the support provided by the employer.
  • Provide access to advice from professional tax, social security and immigration professionals.

During the assignment

  • Check in regularly with the employee to ensure they are content and safe in the host location. Remind them to review any training materials frequently and follow the advice received.
  • Review the security risks, allowances and relocation provisions every six to 12 months.
  • Test the action plan to ensure it works in practice and revise accordingly.
  • Ensure ongoing compliance filing requirements are met.
  • Check visa validity annually and track expiry dates.

When they come back

  • Begin planning the role the expat will return to six months prior to the assignment ends with the employee’s line manager.
  • Consider further training or counselling to prepare the employee for their return to the home location, which can be as important at repatriation as it is pre-assignment.
  • Encourage the returning expat to mentor other employees going to the same host location. Sharing first-hand experience of living and working in other locations is invaluable.
  • Ensure final tax and social security filings are made.
  • Cancel visas upon the expat’s return home.

Increasing globalisation has meant a wider range of business sectors and companies of all sizes now send their people to emerging markets and higher-risk locations.

Although we have outlined a number of preventive measures and action plans that can be implemented to reduce the risks internationally mobile employees are exposed to, it is recommended that HR teams seek specialist advice to ensure they can successfully navigate this complex and ever-changing area.

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