Magazine article Risk Management

Shoring Up Protection for Overseas Employees

Magazine article Risk Management

Shoring Up Protection for Overseas Employees

Article excerpt

Last November, like many Western contractors before him, British peace activist Norman Kember was kidnapped in Iraq and threatened with execution. At press time, his fate remains unknown. Since April, 2004, more than 200 foreign civilians have been abducted in Iraq. Of these, more than 30 have been killed. Many hostages, like Kember, remain missing with no clue as to their whereabouts or their safety.

The situation in Iraq is dramatic, but by no means unique. Across the world, companies spurred by an increasingly competitive global marketplace feel compelled to do business in dangerous countries. But for their employees, going to work is more than just another day at the office. It is a matter of life and death.

For years, the exposures faced by employees stationed overseas have been a concern for risk and benefit managers. Employees may have been required to take a brief country-training program, and international insurance may have been tacked onto their benefits package. Emergencies were, for the most part, handled on a case-by-case basis.

But with each passing day, the news of terrorism, war, industrial accidents and natural disasters reinforces the need for contingency planning that actively manages those risks faced by employees stationed overseas or traveling internationally. Today's risk and benefit management plans must contemplate a diverse array of travel and overseas exposures that specialized insurance protection and programs can mitigate.

Nowhere to Hide

Recent events have shown that developed nations are as vulnerable to danger as emerging markets. Bombings of mass transit systems last year in London and Madrid speak to the widespread dangers that overseas employees face. No region of the world is immune to danger and coping with these concerns takes on an added dimension of peril in countries where the language, culture and social customs are unfamiliar, especially if the political structure is unstable.

The business goals of attaining distinct cost, production or revenue advantages that may be offered by an international presence must be balanced with planning for the safety and benefits of employees working or traveling overseas on behalf of the company. This includes meaningful insurance coverage as well as comprehensive contingency planning for man-made or natural disasters in any location--be it remote or easily accessible--where valued employees are stationed. This process requires thinking through the logistics involved in evacuating or providing medical assistance to employees before an event, without the pressure of doing so when their lives may be in jeopardy. Once disaster strikes, there is going to be little time to develop a plan to secure an employee's safety. Borders may be closed, mass transit may be shut down, commercial airlines could be grounded, and access to medical care often is limited.

Evacuating overseas employees from a site where a natural or manmade catastrophe has occurred requires substantial advance logistical planning. The orderly exit of employees may depend upon the cooperation of governmental, military or relief agencies that can assist with transfer. The sad fact that a disaster can happen anywhere puts this component of contingency planning beyond the capacity of many risk and benefit management programs. One of the first resources an employer may turn to is an accidental death and disability (AD&D) insurer that understands catastrophic coverage and has developed a thorough program of travel assistance as a key part of its risk and benefit management offering.

A Personal Emergency

For companies with no experience or network to rely on, providing support to an overseas employee who has suffered a medical emergency in a foreign land can be as daunting and complicated as responding to a mass disaster. An employer may be placed in the position of trying to locate appropriate medical care and perhaps specialized transportation within a compressed timeframe and without sufficient information on the available medical capabilities. …

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