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04 Jun 2020
by Michelle Bishop and Simon Richardson

Five ways to support expatriate staff and business travellers during the pandemic

As we all know, the current health crisis is unprecedented, so adapting to the ‘new normal’ is an additional challenge for HR and mobility professionals. Globally mobile employees are already a high-risk population, but COVID-19 poses a further level of complexity to the employer’s support for their employees in overseas roles. Here are our top five considerations toward supporting these employees during the pandemic.


1. Track your globally mobile employees – in the past, present and future

Top of the list is developing a robust method for tracking globally mobile employees, especially since each country is at a different stage in their management of the disease. Tracking globally mobile employees also provides the organisation with a view on the increasing number of compliance risks, such as Posted EC Workers Directives, immigration and tax compliance.

Although knowing where employees are located now or have been located in the past helps the employer react to potential risk, knowing where they will be in the future should ensure the employer manages both compliance and health risks in a strategic and pro-active way.

2. Brief employees before they travel

Meet your duty of care responsibilities by ensuring you and the employee know the risks associated with their intended location (for them and their families). Now more than ever it’s critical to evaluate the business value versus the employees’ risk of travelling. By providing the appropriate pre-departure and in-location support on security briefings, access to health care, emergency contacts and evacuation services, enables the employee to make an informed choice on whether they can make a success of their period of time abroad.

3. Prepare to provide more destination services support

With the additional burdens on the employee, should we be thinking about additional support for home search and orientation? Should we be offering more advice on local travel and should we consider the feasibility of our approach to home flights? Relocation specialists in the host country should be well acquainted with immigration and border control guidance as well as advising on ways to look after the employee during their period of time abroad.

4. Brief your employee on their health benefits

However you structure your employee benefits, understanding whether your procedures, policies and benefits cover the costs associated with a pandemic or provide access to services to support employees during and resulting from a pandemic, is integral to an organisation. Whether it be access to testing, treatment or vaccinations, EAPs, virtual GPs, leave or return home policies, all have a bearing on protecting your employee and their dependants during travel or an assignment. You should ensure benefits are flexible and meet the businesses needs during a pandemic and support a focus on duty of care.

5. Review your global mobility policy and process

There are likely to be less globally mobile business travellers and international assignees, but those who do work abroad in the future are likely to be more critical to the business. So rather than reduce global mobility resources, consider allocating more time into reviewing the processes, such as assignment letters, tax equalisation processes and work permits, since these are likely to be more complex as a result of the pandemic. For example, there may be more employees working from home in a different country to their employer’s location, which may require a new mobility policy to ensure costs remain the same to the business.

Although there may well be less appetite for employers to invest in the cost of sending as many  employees overseas in future, there are likely to be many additional challenges to supporting those employees who do manage to navigate their way through the new global mobility maze to a new overseas role.

The authors are Michelle Bishop, managing consultant, growth leader for global mobility centre of excellence, multinational benefits and human resources consulting and Simon Richardson, senior consultant, global mobility advisory services, multinational benefits and human resources consulting.

This article is provided by Gallagher.

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