Employee relocation and compliance

11 August 2016

One of the main preoccupations with the modern HR department is the need to fit in with ever-changing compliance legislation. Global mobility can be more complicated still with regulations in different countries to comply with. Here are a few of the considerations to bear in mind when planning an international employee assignment.

Is it work or business?

For most people, the two words mean more or less the same thing. But if you make that assumption when you are relocating employees, you could run into trouble. A business visa is typically used for business people to attend meetings, meet clients and conduct, well, business. A work visa, on the other hand, is usually required if a company representative is going to stay longer, or perform more significant work. The problem for HR departments or global mobility planners is that every country and every assignment varies.

The business v work issue is typical of the minefield that HR professionals need to negotiate.

Is it work or is it business?

Immigration issues

Beyond the question of whether an employee is traveling for ‘work’ or ‘business’, there are a number of other considerations with regard to local immigration rules. These vary of course by country, and legislation is less codified in some countries than others, often leaving decisions to the judgment of local officials. Amongst the issues to consider are:

  • Do you actually need a work permit required or will a less complex type of visa suffice?
  • Does the company need general approval for expat staff in the host location before individual applications can be made?
  • Is there a quota system in place?
  • How long is the assignment, and how does this affect immigration conditions?
  • Do you have enough time to secure the necessary approval? Bureaucratic wheels can turn very slowly...
Immigration issues

Duty of care

The world can be a dangerous place – and one of the key compliance issues is to ensure that the employer is fulfilling their ‘duty of care’ obligations – to provide reasonable care to employees during their time abroad. Failure to do so will make the employer subject to a negligence action in court. The threats are many, and assignees need to be properly equipped to handle disease, natural and man-made disasters and other dangers they could encounter, such as:

  • Travel accidents
  • Emergency hospitalization
  • Immunization, allergies (eg Zika virus)
  • Violations of foreign law, imprisonment
  • Kidnapping threats to employee or family members
  • Injury or death

These are often extreme scenarios, but the management of risk and compliance is a necessary part of assignment planning.

Duty of care

Different types of global assignment

As companies seek to maximize global competitiveness, and as the appetite for travel increases amongst millennials, companies are taking more innovative approaches to global mobility. So, in addition to the traditional long-term global assignment, we need to consider the compliance dimension of the following:

  • Short-term assignments
  • Talent swap
  • Business travel
  • Recruiting from overseas

Each will vary, depending on the regulations that apply, and HR departments know they need to be aware of all potential pitfalls.

Tolerance and compliance

There are also other compliance issues to consider. Employers are bound by the different anti-discrimination regulations in different countries, for example the right to equal treatment of employees regardless of religion or sexual preferences. However, an assignment to countries that are less tolerant of an individual’s beliefs or lifestyle choices may create problems. Most companies avoid this problem by simply making it clear that the individual is free to either accept the assignment or to choose another one to a more tolerant location. Those who put pressure on an employee to move to a country where their behavior may compromise their effectiveness – or even worse constitute a criminal act – are almost certainly infringing on employee rights legislation.

These are just some of the factors that HR departments need to consider – and legal, specialist advice is often sought to ensure that companies do not fall foul of the complex – and ever-changing – compliance framework.

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