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The essential guide to managing the health of international remote workers

Ema Boccagni, Commercial Director EMEA - ECA International (ECA),

The health of employees is critical to the running of any business, and this has been reaffirmed over the past 19 months as companies have had to react to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and manage policies and staff in response to the changing employment landscape.

With many employees working remotely on international assignments due to the pandemic, there are key considerations surrounding liability, health status and insurance claiming, all vital for global mobility experts and HR leaders.

Understanding where liability falls
The pandemic has led to a significant increase in home working and questions regarding the employer’s liabilities in the event of incidents at home, while a worker performs their duties. This is also applicable to international remote working and different jurisdictions have different laws on the matter, so it is important for HR personnel to know what is required and what the company’s liabilities are.

For example, an employee based in Singapore who is working remotely at home for an employer based in Australia may be covered by Australian laws in relation to workplace accidents. Therefore, if the employee has an accident at home, they may be liable to compensation in accordance with Australian legislation.

Access to medical care and insurance
Health care and medical insurance is another key consideration; several countries limit access to government healthcare to citizens, residents or those who make contributions to their social security schemes. Therefore, a person from Australia who is employed by a company in China and has chosen to reside in Hong Kong will not have the same level of access to hospital services, and the fees they pay will be significantly higher than those applicable to Hong Kong residents.

Before utilising virtual assignments, global mobility teams should also check with their medical insurance provider to see if employees who continue to remain and work in their home country would still be covered by the company’s medical insurance policy, if the employee is working for the benefit of a subsidiary in another country.

Further to this, it is important to keep on top of changes within the political landscape of the assignees, to make sure that new regulations and laws will not alter the requirements for access to medical care or incur additional costs that will need to be reimbursed. For example, there were concerns over the possibility of the European Health insurance cards being discontinued post-Brexit, which would have needed to be considered by GM teams and fully accounted for to provide sufficient cover.

Health screenings
As overseas travel resumes, employers need to consider the health of employees before short-term assignments and business trips take place; medical examinations and vaccination status will be a key consideration for HR leaders. Currently, prior to travel, health checks are carried out on assignees to assess whether the individual has any underlying risks that could be aggravated by the assignment, putting them in a life-threatening situation or where treatment is not readily available.

In context, policies would allow for preventative measures to be taken against an individual that suffers from respiratory illnesses, looking to relocate to a location of high Covid-19 risk, where the individual has not been fully vaccinated.

Having a duty of care to its staff stands as the leading principle of an organisation, so whilst assignees do hold the freedom to refuse vaccination on request prior to business travel, the employer can also decline the trip on the basis that the destination poses high risk to the individual, along with family, friends, and colleagues on return. In many cases the decision is even out of the employer’s hands, as immigration authorities will have certain vaccination requirements which HR teams will need to be aware of and advise on.

In conclusion, it’s imperative that globally mobility and HR experts consider varying factors linked to the health and wellbeing of all overseas remote employees and those due to resume overseas assignments, in order to meet the standard of practice required as an employer.

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