Employers’ Duty of Care to Employees Abroad

With more than a 100 years’ combined experience in international business, litigation, labour & employment law and consular affairs, the Ofelas Group guides organizations through the legal and practical challenges that arise when work takes their employees overseas.

Employers have a general legal obligation, known as a “duty of care”, to take all reasonable steps to protect their employees’ health, safety and security at work.

When it comes to sending employees overseas — whether on short-term business trips or long-term assignment – this obligation is likely to raise novel and daunting challenges. Depending on the destination country, employers may have to consider and respond to any number of risks and dangers, from terrorism and kidnapping to disease and civil unrest.

While the specific requirements of an employer’s duty of care will vary case by case, the following are some sample measures that may be necessary in a given situation.

  • Ensuring employees have ready access to high-quality medical care in the event of injury or illness abroad.
  • Educating employees about critical legal and cultural differences they are likely to encounter in the destination country (regarding, for example, consumption of alcohol, public displays of affection, official corruption, etc.).
  • Obtaining the appropriate level and scope of insurance.
  • Retaining expert advice and assistance in the event employees are arrested, abducted or otherwise detained in the destination country.
  • Obtaining a comprehensive country-specific and activity-specific risk assessment prior to sending employees abroad.
  • Identifying relevant security threats (e.g., terrorism, kidnapping, civil unrest) and providing employees with responsive education and training.
  • Informing employees about possible exposure to disease (e.g., zika virus, malaria, dengue fever), facilitating vaccinations and educating employees regarding best practices for avoidance.

When an employer fails to meet its duty of care, the consequences can be catastrophic. They may include, for instance, employee injury, death or imprisonment; consequent civil liability for employers; loss of moral standing, brand value and reputation; and erosion of employee morale.

In extreme cases, employers and responsible individuals within them may be exposed to criminal punishment, including severe monetary penalties and imprisonment.
With so much on the line, employers can ill afford to be passive when it comes meeting their duty of care to employees overseas.

The Ofelas Group can provide your company with pre-deployment training and support as well as expert advice and assistance in a crisis.