Employee Benefits

How to Protect Employees Who Travel and Work Abroad

By Judith Mewhort on May, 24 2018

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As globalization increases, more and more Canadian companies are sending workers around the world. But here’s the challenge:

Employee benefits in a global setting are increasingly complex. If you don’t fully understand these complexities, your business and workers may become vulnerable to serious health and financial issues.

First, your global benefits programs need to make sense for the location and culture your employees are in. Also, Canadian companies must prepare for the challenges associated with every country where their workers travel, work, and live. If not, you may end up facing lawsuits and criminal charges.

Travelling and Working Outside of Canada: How to Keep Employees Healthy and Safe

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Here are the four types of global employees:

  1. Business Traveller - travels from country of origin to one or more countries for as little as a day or for several weeks at a time.
  1. Rotator - travels between country of origin and another country on a regular schedule, usually maintaining a home base in the other country.
  1. Short Term Assignee - is assigned to live and work in another country for up to six months.
  1. Expatriate - is assigned to live and work in another country for six months or more, but with the intention of eventually returning to country of origin.

You need to provide specialized benefits coverage as well as specialized support to all four types of global employees. However, small and mid-sized businesses often choose to rely on the emergency out-of-country coverage provided through a domestic group health plan.

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But this isn’t always a good idea.

The challenge with this type of coverage is that it’s primarily designed for the leisure traveller. It often contains clauses which limit or void coverage for situations related to:

  1. pre-existing health conditions
  2. countries which are under travel advisories
  3. age caps
  4. health stability

Furthermore, if the employer sponsored health coverage doesn’t meet the required standards of the destination country, that country may deny the worker entry. It’s really vital to stay up to date, as regulatory and government requirements change frequently.  

Businesses and Workers Face Increased Risks Associated with Travelling

In addition to providing appropriate healthcare, it’s important to recognize that frequent business travel has three types of consequences: physiological, psychological and emotional, and social.  These combine to create a need to provide greater support to business travellers and their families.

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Furthermore, if international business travelers don’t have proper coverage, they’ll be vulnerable to potentially high out-of-pocket expenses if they become sick or injured while away from home.  

This can have several damaging effects on the business. Because an employer’s duty of care for business travel is required but frequently overlooked or incomplete, employees who aren’t taken care of often sue their employer. This results in real damage to the company’s brand. Given that damaged brand risk is among the top risk factors for companies, if you don’t properly prepare your business travellers, you run the risk of significant financial loss.

In addition to health concerns, make sure you consider these non-medical risks:

  • kidnapping
  • extortion
  • violent crimes
  • war risk
  • terrorism

And even when workers travel to stable regions of the world, you should provide the following:

Pre-travel advice on topics such as:

  • Vaccination requirements
  • Infectious diseases
  • Food and water safety
  • Country and city profiles
  • Currency requirements
  • Passport and visa information
  • Security alerts

And once abroad:

  • Help with lost or forgotten medication
  • Assistance with lost or stolen credit cards or passports
  • Care coordination with doctors, pharmacies, and hospitals
  • Security and emergency evacuation plans

Travelling Workers Experience More Problems Than You Think

Businesses, especially those relatively new to sending workers abroad, often underestimate the likelihood of a problem occurring. According to the Centre for Disease Control, for every 100,000 travelers visiting a developing country for one month:

  • 50,000 will experience some health problems
  • 8,000 will need to be seen by a physician
  • 5,000 will be confined to a bed
  • 300 will be admitted to hospital
  • 50 will require an air evacuation
  • 1 will die on the trip

Final Thoughts

So why take the risk?  Speak to your benefits advisor today to review your existing global benefits coverage and discuss the policy and procedures that are paramount to mitigating brand risk in the event of an unforeseen emergency.

Next Step:

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