Protecting international assignees

Valerie Berset-Price

Valerie Berset Price

Dear Valérie,

I am the HR director of a fast growing company located in Longview, Washington. Our industry is engineering related and attracts a lot of men. In the past three years, I have been successful at recruiting women, and, having just finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In,” our company is determined to bring more women in. Being a woman myself and not having traveled much, I wonder, however, if it is a safe move to send women on international business assignments in a world in full ebullition. I also would like to know what type of program we should have in place to protect our employees when traveling internationally for our company. Thank you!

MaryLinn B.

Dear MaryLinn,

I just finished reading “Lean In” myself and have found it to be a gem. So glad it inspired you to keep on finding relevant roles for women within your companies.

Regardless of the gender, sending employees on international assignments involves a certain level of risk that requires a certain level of protection. Dr. Lisbeth Claus published a thorough white paper called “Duty of care of employers for protecting international assignees, their dependents and international business travelers.” The paper goes over the different programs companies must have in place to ensure that traveling employees are well-informed and well-taken care of when operating outside of their own country. Here is a summary of those key elements to consider:

  • Carefully groom your employees to make sure they have the right attitude to succeed in the host country (physically fit for the job, don’t take unnecessary risks, respectful of people’s culture and religion, curious and willing to learn the language, etc.);
  • Communicate, educate and train your employees to increase their awareness of the type of environment in which they will be operating once in the foreign country; make sure they are aware of the protocols, risk and dangers associated with certain behaviors that might be considered offensive in the host country;
  • Assess employee risk prior to any international travel (is the area safe for travel or is there some political unrest going on) and keep on assessing the possibly changing risks when employees are on the road;
  • Provide access to adequate and safe air and ground transportation (private driver instead of rental car or cab, business class or extra night in a hotel to properly rest, proper escort for female employees in certain regions, etc.);
  • Track and monitor your employees; have a system in place wherein you know at all times where your employees are when traveling internationally or operating abroad;
  • Have a crisis management plan and exit strategy in place in case of rioting, earthquake, tsunami, volcanic eruption, war, coup d’état, etc.;
  • Provide comprehensive travel and medical insurance to your entire international workforce;
  • Understand the medical and environmental risks and provide the necessary vaccinations and preventive medications.

It is important to remember that an employer has a moral, social and legal responsibility toward its employees and that a company is ultimately responsible for what is happening to them while abroad under foreign laws.

Hope this helps!


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