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Your Duty of Care Overseas: It Extends Further Than You Think

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Your Duty of Care Overseas: It Extends Further Than You Think

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When planning for an overseas expansion, HR executives should put duty of care at the top of their list of priorities.

The risks to employees and others when they’re operating in a foreign environment multiply and become less predictable. That makes duty of care both a more pressing and a more complicated issue. The range of circumstances you have to prepare for and the people your duty extends to may come as a surprise to you.

Your first impression may be that duty of care to overseas workers means addressing the threat of major disaster, and coming up with a contingency plan for things like terrorist attacks, coups, natural disasters, and sudden outbreaks of infectious diseases. That’s part of it, but there are all sorts of other less spectacular and less obvious risks to account for. The most common duty of care issues that arise from sending people abroad are those related to food poisoning and petty theft.

Road accidents are another big one — do you know if the roads your employees must travel on your behalf are safe, and have you provided them with a reliable driver? If you ask an employee to take a red eye flight and then pick up a rental car in a country that drives on the other side of the road, are you responsible if he crashes the car? Should you have provided a driver?


Other duty of care issues may be even less apparent if you don’t have deep experience operating in a variety of foreign environments. What if you send someone to set up operations in a country rife with corruption and they’re harassed by organized crime? What if someone attends a work-related gathering, like a harbor cruise, in a country with laxer safety laws than in your home country, and drowns? You need a detailed map of the universe of risk that arises when people are placed in foreign environments — and what your duties are in that universe.

You may also be surprised by the universe of people whom you need to give duty of care consideration. It’s not just expat workers you post abroad. You owe a duty of care to business travelers no matter how short their trip. You also owe it to local agents of your business who are citizens of your host country, whether they’re employees or contractors. The duty also often extends out to subcontractors, host communities, and others affected by your operations in foreign countries.

It’s a big wide world out there, and when you step into it, it can be hard just to know everything you need to do to operate safely and responsibly in it. We’re here to help.You can contact us here

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