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Tracking Your Mobile Employees: Duty of Care or Big Brother? 07.5.2018 | Jennifer Connell

In a perfect world, companies recognize a Duty of Care to their employees, meaning that they should take all reasonable steps to ensure their health, safety and well-being.

This is particularly relevant when it comes to the mobile workforce. As employees are relocated to an unfamiliar city or country, often with little notice or time to prepare, they want to be assured that their employer has a plan for keeping them safe in the destination location.

We typically think of Duty of Care as ensuring the physical safety of employees during such events as hurricanes, wildfires, floods and earthquakes. However, Duty of Care is increasingly being applied to situations such as compliance.

It’s one thing to know where your employees are in the event of an emergency; it’s another to ensure that they are abiding by the tax and immigration rules of their host countries. But both of these factors constitute “Duty of Care” in today’s business world.

There’s a reason this needs to be top of mind. Today, as the pace of business accelerates, more and more companies are using Extended Business Travelers (EBTs) to advance corporate projects around the world. Unlike employees on traditional short or long-term assignments, these employees have typically flown “under the radar” within organizations, but as global taxing authorities have stepped up their game, becoming more aggressive in pursuit of payments, EBTs have become moving targets. More countries are requiring documentation of not just the number of days an employee has been in country, but how much he or she is being paid and the exact type of work being performed. This places extra administrative burden on companies who now need to navigate the increasingly complex tax and visa regulations.

Duty of Care also becomes an important topic in the face of evolving mobility programs. While tiered programs and traditional long-term assignments are still popular, there’s been an increase in flexible approaches and lump sums. Yes, these programs can offer cost savings and support flexibility, but the independence that they grant employees is not always advantageous. Within these “self-service models,” in which employees are making their own arrangements, providing for Duty of Care becomes more challenging.

Our most recent survey found that one-third of companies are not tracking their EBTs, leaving them and their employees vulnerable to a wide range of consequences, ranging from million dollar fines to jail time. A recent Wall Street Journal article from May 2018 stated that, “New laws in several countries, including the UK, are holding corporations criminally responsible for the safety and security of employees.” And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Some of the hesitance to embrace a tracking tool no doubt comes from the increased focus on privacy, and rulings like the GDPR that enforce guidelines for how much personal online data companies are allowed to absorb. Knowing your employees’ movements is critical to providing Duty of Care, but at what point does a “concerned employer” become “Big Brother?”

Based on our survey results and my own interactions with HR and corporate mobility professionals, I believe that many aren’t adopting a tracking tool because they aren’t entirely sure who in the organization should be responsible for tracking employees. Is it Mobility, HR, IT, Compensation… or someone else?

That said, those companies that are embracing technology, like the Weichert Global Organizer can track their population, create alerts and reminders that enhance immigration compliance by telling them when information is due, and send communications to employees or providers. In this way, tracking is not so much shining a light on employees’ whereabouts, but more a proactive tool that enhances the workflow for mobility.

Here are a few best practices for companies to demonstrate Duty of Care:

  • Develop a process to monitor and track travelers for the key areas of pre-trip assessment: taxation, immigration and Duty of Care.
  • Start by bringing in other areas of your company that are impacted by Duty of Care…maybe it’s in your T&E policy, IT protocol, or in health care.
  • Bring in stakeholders to help you develop the company’s point of view on Duty of Care, and how it should carry through to mobility and enable you to be consistent.
  • Determine who should own this responsibility. Travel is rarely concerned with taxes, and immigration isn’t necessarily concerned that the employee needs to be in another country in three days since they are bound to the timeframes for the immigration process.
  • Communicate the benefits to employees, lest your silence be viewed as “Big Brother.” Employees need to understand that the tracking tool is not meant to be invasive; rather, it is there to keep them safe.

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Written by Jennifer Connell

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Jennifer Connell, SCRP, SGMS-T, is North American Practice Leader with Weichert’s Consulting Services group. She has over 23 years of experience in the workforce mobility and employee benefits industries and received Worldwide ERC’s Meritorious Service Award in 2010. She has also spoken on workforce mobility topics at industry conferences throughout North America.

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