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Guidelines on Dangerous Assignments – When Your Employee is Risking His Life for the Company

Mariana Villa da Costa – Littler  Mendelson

It is a big and dangerous world we live in today.  There are many “hotspots” around the world where the personal safety and security of staff can be in jeopardy unless the proper precautions are taken.  Expatriate employees assigned to high-risk locations are especially vulnerable.  Companies need to become familiar with the actual in-country conditions, work with security experts to do a risk assessment, and evaluate and update their assignment policies to minimize the risk to assignees and company alike.

What’s Dangerous?
Assignments may be considered dangerous in locations that have some of the following characteristics:

  • Countries where war, civil insurrection, or terrorism exists and presents physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of an employee.
  • Widespread, uncontrolled violence or disease.
  • Lack of infrastructure (limited availability of basic goods and medications, for example).
  • Lack of family support services, such as schools, health care, etc.
  • Extreme physical conditions (sub-freezing temperatures, remote locations, etc.).

Companies often have a difficult time attracting and retaining people for these assignments, as the assignment is likely to be very stressful on the employee and family.  A proactive approach helps to address the problem.

Steps to Manage Extreme Hardship Assignments
There are several measures that can be taken by employers to address the unique challenges of extreme hardship assignments.  Here is a checklist to follow:

  1. Should the assignment include family members, or is an unaccompanied status required?
  2. Expatriate package should be reviewed to consider extra allowances and other benefits, as appropriate.  Some examples are:
    • Hardship Pay – Usually 10% to 25% of base salary, to compensate employees for extreme living conditions.
    • Danger Pay – Typically 15% to 25% of base salary, in addition to all other compensation.
    • Travel Benefits – Extra trips, or allowance to make trips for R&R (rest and relaxation) on a periodic basis, in a safe and secure location.
    • Assignment Letter – Update to include details on all extra benefits and explain the conditions the employee will find in the location.
  3. Safety and Personal Security precautions should be followed and training and information provided to each assignee (and family members), including:
    • Security Briefing and Training – Ensure every assignee is informed about the security risks in-country, knows how to address them, knows where to go in an emergency and whom to call (in the company, and perhaps outside security consultants as well).
    • Bodyguards (if required).
    • Secure Housing – Limitations on where assignees can live, to eliminate situations that are particularly risky.  Apartment complexes, gated communities or compounds many be appropriate.  Armed guards and security systems are typical.
    • Legal Representation Abroad
    • Kidnap/Emergency Response
    • Emergency Evacuation Procedures – Each assignee must understand the company’s procedure for evacuation, how it affects family members, etc., in the event of natural or man-made disaster, war or other catastrophe.
  4. Health issues are another important consideration.  Are there adequate medical facilities available in-country?  If not, what sort of arrangements can be made?  You also need to consider contagious diseases, insect-borne illnesses, HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases, extreme pollution, blood supply, treatments for chronic illness, availability of prescription drugs, and applicability of health insurance.  There are health experts that specialize in assisting companies and families in health assessments, medical evacuations and similar challenges.Don’t forget the basics, such as up-to-date vaccinations!
  5. Other insurance (beyond health insurance) is often required.  Typical examples:
    • Life and Disability Insurance – Make sure coverage is valid in the assignment country.
    • Kidnap and ransom insurance
    • Burglary and other household effects insurance
    • War risk insurance – Often needed in countries designated as war zones.
  6. Cross-Cultural Training should be provided to ensure a relatively smooth transition for the employee, and a realistic preview of what daily living is like.  Companies often view such training as “too soft,” but experience shows that it is extremely helpful to prepare assignees well for many contingencies.
  7. Crisis Management Protocols should be defined in each organization.  Some suggestions:
    • Define a protocol for assigning “critical” status to disaster or crisis situations. It is important that companies have informed local sources to ensure that their assessment of the situation is valid and current.
    • Formalize and communicate country or regional contact points and phone numbers.
    • Set up a procedure for the employee in the event of an emergency.
    • Ensure that employee emergency contact numbers, as well as home and office phone numbers, are on record with the home office and the country contact person.
    • Conduct emergency evacuation briefings or updates upon assignment and at periodic points during assignments, particularly in areas of potential risk or conflict.
    • Plan for financial and travel contingencies.

Other Resources
There are many other resources to assist employers in managing extreme hardship assignments.  Start with the US Department of State Travel Warnings.  The UK Border Agency provides a listing of current conditions in many countries, as does the US Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook.  Forbes Magazine publishes a list of the World’s Most Dangerous Countries, which offers some useful information.  Check with security consultants and health care experts as well.

Managing assignments to dangerous places is a challenge for employers and stressful for employees.  Careful planning, sound policies, advance preparation and of course, a sense of adventure, are all steps to mitigating the risks and ensuring a successful assignment for your company.

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