It’s a Family Affair: How Relocation Policies Define “Family” 06.2.2021 | Jennifer Connell

family relocation definition

June is Pride Month, which is a good time to examine ways that your company can be more inclusive. Re-examining employee-facing documents and on-line resources to neutralize gendered language is a start, but many benefits and policies involve the employee’s family as well. Not everyone’s family fits a standard definition, however, so what’s a company to do?

Understandably, not all company policies mention family, but many that apply to relocation do. And unlike many other applications, sometimes the implication of what constitutes “family” in a mobility policy/practice can have significant cost, employee experience and Duty of Care implications for the company, especially when defining which family members can accompany the employee on an assignment or a move.

In fact, according to Atlas World Group’s 2020 Corporate Relocation Survey, “For the past seven years, family issues/ties have taken the top spot as a reason for declined relocations, cited by more than half of firms (52% of respondents).”

Given the cost and impact of a failed relocation or assignment to the company, it’s more important than ever to get this right.

Our primary advice to clients is to examine other company policies that include a definition of family and use that as a guide in determining the definition for mobility purposes (if applicable). In lieu of the ability to do that, either because a definition is not available or is not contextually appropriate, we can provide a number of examples that can assist in the determination of one for mobility purposes.

One that we find gaining in favor is perhaps the most inclusive: “All members of your household and/or persons for whom you are primarily responsible.” This definition is the broadest and allows for the possibility of including, for example, elderly parents living on their own, students away at college or disabled adult children living in group home situations, to name just a few.

For international assignments, the definition may be based upon tax implications such as family members who qualify under the home country tax law for inclusion in the global assignee’s hypothetical tax calculation. The inclusion is regardless of whether or not they accompany the global assignee to the host location.

More common examples include “immediate family” defined as “Spouse; mother; father, brother, sister, partner, child, step-child, or legal dependent as defined by local tax laws”; or even a simplified version “Spouse/partner and dependents.”

Other, less common descriptions which are falling out of favor tend to be extremely narrow and define each family member in detail with the added caveat “provided that they were living with you at the time of relocation.”

Whichever definition approach aligns with your company’s philosophy and culture, it’s always a good idea to include company legal and compliance resources in the final decision to ensure adherence to all applicable laws. It’s also important to note that what may constitute family under a corporate definition may not be acceptable under the legal guidelines of every country to which a company moves talent. For example, as of this writing, according to BBC News, there are only 29 countries that legally recognize same sex unions and 69 countries in which same sex partnership is criminally punishable, so a qualifying statement may be needed, especially in international policy/practice definitions.

Whether you’re looking to adopt more inclusive policy language or overhaul your entire program, Weichert’s Consulting and Advisory Services experts are here to help.

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Written by Jennifer Connell


Jennifer Connell, SCRP, SGMS-T, is Vice President of Weichert’s Advisory Services group. She has over 25 years of experience in the workforce mobility and employee benefits industries and is a recipient of Worldwide ERC’s Distinguished Service Award. She has spoken on workforce mobility topics at industry conferences throughout North America and written for mobility- and HR-themed blogs and magazines worldwide.

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