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Are your employees or contract workers located in volatile and politically sensitive countries?

Osborne Clarke advice on what you should be doing.

Recent troubles have seen Ukraine rise through the ranks of an ever increasing number of potentially volatile and politically sensitive hotspots worldwide. Others of course include the continuing current troubles in the Middle East.

Multinational businesses with interests in hotspot areas will rightly be concerned about the risks posed to the safety and security of its employees, contract workers, assets and supply chains. This is not only a moral and business concern for multinational employers and staffing companies, but also a legal one. The law imposes duties on an employer (and on a staffing company) to safeguard the health and safety of its employees and contract staff and to provide them with a safe place to work. A failure to do either can lead to civil and/or criminal penalties being imposed and the associated legal processes in both the foreign jurisdiction in the UK (which are likely to be labour intensive, costly and drawn out). This may include risks not only to the business but also to company directors and managers personally and the risk of legal proceedings against those individuals abroad.

Whilst the risks associated with political instability, war and terrorism cannot be removed completely, there are a number of practical steps that multinational businesses can take to protect employees and assets and limit the potential effects on their operations in high risk areas. It is crucial that businesses identify and assess health, safety and security risks associated with working abroad and have in place a plan which seeks to address those risks (see our earlier alert here).

Some of the steps that Osborne Clarke has advised its clients to consider as part of such a plan have included:

&middot         In the case of staffing companies who supply contract workers into hot spots, being very clear (with the contract workers/insurers/local payroll partners/local subcontractors/local employment intermediaries) who has relevant “control (from which legal duties of care stem, creating a legal obligation to manage risk) and who has contractual  responsibility for the management of risk and who has responsibility for carrying insurance for key risks (and checking that that insurance is in fact in place). In practice we do not believe staffing companies should look to rely on local payroll partners/subcontractors/employment intermediaries, and should have their own plans and insurance in place.

&middot         Appointing a dedicated crisis team and liaison officer to assume control of any emergency and ensure that disruption to other areas of the business is minimised.

&middot         Where possible, putting in place transport, access to funds, legal assistance and medical help for any affected employees including contract staff (who in many cases will of course be employees of your local operation or partner).

&middot         Liaising with other employers or staffing companies operating in the region to assess the viability of a co-operative action plan for emergencies.

&middot         Providing employees and contract workers with satellite phones or other technologies that can be used in the event of mobile network disruptions or power outages/failures.

&middot         Communicating regularly with employees and contract workers to gain advice or provide information about changes to their situation.

&middot         Maintaining up-to-date contact, next of kin details, locations and travel plans for all employees and contract staff. (This will enable the business to quickly account for employees and contract workers and to assist local embassies, consulates and foreign governments communicate with employees if it becomes necessary to evacuate).

&middot         Monitoring the situation regularly and being alert to changing circumstances or any escalation that might necessitate increased security or evacuation.

&middot         It is nevertheless important for businesses to ensure that they have the appropriate level of insurance in place when operating in high risk areas and for them to regularly review such policies in light of any changes in circumstances that might affect or necessitate a change in the level or scope of any cover. We have seen problems with insurance cover arranged by local payroll and employment intermediaries for contract workers (including in evacuation situations) – are you sure your partners have everything covered?

If you wish to discuss this, and your liabilities relating to people in hot spots please contact Kevin Barrow, Mary Lawrence or Julian Hemming at Osborne Clarke.

Osborne Clarke is an international law firm which specialises in advising on global flexible workforce issues.



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