As companies venture to more remote and challenging locations, and their employees are posted on longer and more stressful international assignments, the HR agenda expands to include not only traditional tax, housing and visa requirements, but the health and safety of its workforce.
The corporation has significant duty-of-care responsibilities to ensure all their international travelers are prepared and have adequate support if they have an incident while abroad. Issues multiply when an international health incident occurs -- from coordinating an evacuation of a critically-injured engineer from a work site in Angola to helping an employee decide if he or she wants to remain on assignment after a robbery in Prague.
Fortunately HR professionals have resources to help them resolve these issues in an efficient and timely manner. Here are some basic proactive steps to ensure your workforce stays healthy, safe and secure:
* Provide pre-travel medical and safety advice and then track your employees. Before assignees or travelers step off the plane, they should be aware of the various health and security risks associated with their destination and organizations should know where they are going.
While in-person training is optimal, many human resource departments are teaming up with their security or travel counterparts to have automated e-mails sent to their globally mobile employees' in-boxes as soon as someone books a trip overseas.
Some take it a step further and require employees to acknowledge they received the information to ensure compliance and duty of care.
Using the same travel data to send pre-travel advice, Web-based tools can also identify and track employees all over the world.
For many companies, 9/11 revealed the critical need to know where your travelers are in times of trouble. Identifying employee whereabouts and being able to communicate with them immediately when an emergency arises is a standard corporate crisis-management service today.
Every crisis, such as the recent bombings in Indonesia, demonstrates the on-going value of this service.
* Have a medical and security resource on hand at all times.
Influenza H1N1, often called the Swine Flu, most recently brought this need to the forefront. Organizations that were not prepared scrambled to find a medical expert to assist their crisis-management team to make timely and appropriate decisions to both protect their employees and maintain business operations.
HR plays a lead role in managing incidents that require medical or security expertise. Medical and security expertise ensures that HR has the appropriate professional advice to make the best decisions to support their employees' health needs, while protecting and reducing exposure to the organization.
* Ensure your organization has global medical insurance and medical-assistance programs.
While insurance companies are critical to pay for services, an assistance company manages and coordinates the medical care. If an expatriate needs a pediatrician in Poland, he or she calls the assistance company to find a qualified provider.
Savvy multinational companies work directly with assistance companies to ensure that an employee's medical care is consistent with their organization's standard of care, and is managed in a cost effective manner. It's critical that the assistance company has doctors available 24/7 and is on the ground in many geographic locations so local care and costs are well understood.
Dr. Myles Druckman is vice president of medical services for International SOS, a leading provider of medical assistance, international healthcare and security services.