Adequate duty of care for the globally mobile

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​Employers are legally obligated to ensure the health, wellbeing and safety of each employee​. But what about those who work overseas?

Protecting the globally mobile has become a prominent issue in recent years. For some the very nature of their job puts them in dangerous working conditions. Emergency situations and hostile environments can be an everyday experience for workers in non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and intergovernmental organisations (IGOs). However, research conducted by Cigna NGO Health Benefits and CHS Alliance in 2013 showed that while nearly 70% of international NGOs offer health insurance to their employees, only half offer it to volunteers. In addition, two-thirds of NGOs do not offer health insurance for their local and national staff.

Increasing corporate travel risks make it imperative for organisations to proactively manage the risks their employees may encounter when overseas.

Cigna’s 2017 360o Wellbeing Survey – Globally Mobile Individuals reveals less than half of globally mobile individuals feel their employers are offering them adequate duty of care. Of the respondents surveyed, more than half (53%) of the globally mobile consider insurance coverage a very important factor when considering a move overseas. Despite this, a surprising 40% of respondents do not have any medical benefits offered by their company, and 15% have no insurance coverage at all.

Globally mobile employees and their families ideally should have 24/7 access to quality healthcare wherever they are on assignment.

Key elements of a successful duty of care programme

Employers can demonstrate proper care toward their workforce by considering six key factors:

1. Assess risk before any overseas assignment or international travel, and train employees to be aware of health, safety or cultural risks.

2. Ensure that budgets and policies allow employees to make safe choices for themselves and their families.

3. Provide access to 24-hour health, medical and travel advice and support.

4. Keep track of globally mobile employees working overseas.

5. Have a plan and exit strategy in case of a natural or man-made crisis such an earthquake, tsunami, rioting or war.

6. Keep assessing risks and procedures when employees are overseas.

We have seen the perception and profile of duty of care change over recent years. What was previously thought of as a concern only for larger organisations who had many people on overseas assignment has become essential for all organisations – big or small, private or public. Care for employees’ physical and mental health should not just be seen as a legal duty. It’s good business. When employees know an organisation is concerned about their health, safety and wellbeing, it builds trust and engagement and can support productivity and long-term commitment.

Bart Jordens is general manager, intergovernmental organisations and Africa at Cigna

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