The recent case of Michelle Palmer, a British expatriate working in Dubai who was caught cavorting on a beach with a fellow Briton and is now facing a possible prison sentence of six years, raised a few eyebrows. It also highlighted the importance of abiding by local laws and customs when working overseas, especially in a country where drinking alcohol and kissing in public are officially illegal. The publishing manager from Peterborough and her co-accused, businessman Vince Acors failed to appreciate the cultural and religious differences between living and working in a Muslim country and the UK.
And while the Palmer/Acors case may seem somewhat extreme, it does raise a few questions for employers: for example what sort of responsibility do they have towards expats posted to work in different countries? Do they have any obligation to staff to spell out what is and isn't acceptable behaviour in the host country?
Gagandeep Prasad, employment lawyer at Charles Russell law firm, points out that untoward behaviour by an employee can be highly damaging for a company's reputation.
"In the Palmer case, the employee got into trouble outside working hours and the query is whether this misconduct needs to be dealt with by the employer. Preparing an employee for cultural differences both inside and outside the workplace is a key consideration and part of the duty of trust and confidence between an employer and employee," she says.
"If a case ends up becoming high profile and receiving press coverage which makes reference to the employer, it could bring the company into disrepute and prove very damaging for business."
In addition to being fully aware of the employment legislation in their local area, organisations must take the country's customs and religious observances into account.
"Matters such as the fact that in Dubai, there is zero tolerance for drugs and pornography, that homosexuality is banned as well as sex outside marriage and that public decency laws forbid everything from kissing in public to cross-dressing, should be emphasised to an employee as part of helping them adjust," Prasad advises.
Employees must be fully briefed on dos and don'ts and cultural nuances before being posted abroad a