The rise of political risk and terrorism in recent years presents added challenges for multinational employers.
As risks grow globally,
increase focus on
the perils that may
face their employees
By Rodrigo Amaral
Political risk and terrorism are on the rise, and so is the responsibility of all companies and organizations to make sure that heir most treasured asset, their employees, are safe when they travel. Risk consultants and insurers warn that now more than ever
employers must make their best efforts to guarantee the physical and mental
integrity of staff members and their dependents in foreign jurisdictions. Failing to
do so can result in litigation in the U.S. and other countries alike, not to mention
the potential of harm to valuable human resources.
U.S. safety and workers’ comp laws do not explicitly impose obligations on
companies to guarantee the safety of employees sent abroad. Nonetheless, courts
typically acknowledge duty of care obligations, resulting in high compensation for
stakeholders that suffer harm while working abroad.
“OSHA has guidance for traveling employees, but the regulatory environment
stops at the borders of the U.S.,” said Hart S. Brown, vice president of
organizational resilience at Hub International. “Even then, companies are exposed
to significant liabilities when their employees are traveling abroad for work.”
The lack of specific legislation about the issue could actually make it more
likely that litigation will take place, according to law office Fisher Phillips. In a
recent report published by International SOS, the firm noted that, if an employee
suffers some kind of injury abroad, he or she is left with little alternative but to
pursue legal redress by alleging that the company was negligent towards its duty
of care obligations.
Brown said researchers have found that four out of every five business travelers
believe their companies are responsible for protecting them throughout their
travels, and a large share of them would consider suing if an adverse event occurred.
Once the decision to litigate is made, employees and their lawyers can shop
around to find the most favorable jurisdiction for their cases. Countries such as the
United Kingdom and France have implemented strict duty of care legislation that
can apply to international travel, and lawsuits can be initiated there if companies
have a presence in those places, even if the incidents happened elsewhere.
In the case of litigation, penalties can be significant. In 2015, the U.S. Court of
Appeals decided that a Connecticut boarding school failed its obligations when it
took students to China in 2007 and a 15-year-old contracted bone encephalitis after
being bitten by ticks. The court ruled that the school should pay damages of $41.5
million, $10 million of which was paid to the student’s family.
IDENTIFY FORESEEABLE RISKS
To avoid such situations, companies have been urged to invest in programs that
address the identification of risks, the adoption of prevention measures and the
training of employees before sending them abroad. The key is to make sure that
foreseeable risks are identified and properly dealt with.
“Every company is involved in different kinds of work and in different
locations, so their foreseeable risks will depend on their own environment and
the destination of their mobile workforce,” said Robert Quigley, a duty of care
expert at International SOS. “But many
companies do not act on their duty of
care to the extent that they should,
hoping that nothing will ever happen.”
This approach sounds misguided,
especially considering the problems that
employees can face away from home.
They range from natural catastrophes
to political violence and terrorism to
accidents during leisure time and illness.
Stress and depression are also concerns.
Some of the biggest threats, though,
aren’t what you might expect.
“Many companies do not act on
their duty of care to the extent
that they should, hoping that
nothing will ever happen.”
—Robert Quigley, duty of care expert, International
• Courts tend toward generous
settlements for employees injured
• Even for workers not physically
harmed during an event, stress
and depression may be a concern.
• Companies should thoroughly
document their efforts to protect