Duty of care meets the age of austerity. It doesn’t mix with lump sums.

What does it mean when the concept of duty of care meets the age of austerity? All Points Relocation Services Canada has seen the growth of the duty of care concept, but feels that it may clash with moves towards austerity and particularly with the advent of the lump sum.

The concept of duty of care for assignees on overseas assignments has actually been around for a long time (the oil industry is well steeped in duty of care culture); it really has only been more recently that it has grabbed greater attention. The safety and security of assignees is a growing concern for organisations, but there is far further to go.

What is duty of care?

Companies address employee safety, security and well-being in a number of ways, including establishing policies and protocols to ensure a safe workplace.  This focus on employee safety is often referred to as duty of care.

While many companies extend their safety policies beyond the physical workplace to include practices while on business travel (such as no texting while driving), duty of care as it relates to relocation can be forgotten. However, relocating employees and their families are more vulnerable during a relocation/assignment.

Sometimes it can take an accident, act of aggression or lawsuit before companies realise the implications for their assignees and their organisations.

Duty of care certainly stems from legal requirements but it is also connected to moral and ethical obligations. More and more companies realize that the health and safety of workers keep the business running and keeps costs down.

Employee Responsibility

One aspect of duty of care is that all the responsibility is not solely upon the shoulders of the company.  Assignees must be made aware of their responsibilities. Therefore companies may have education and training on safety and security included within assignment preparation.

Some duty of care principles

Communication is a clear element of duty of care, which includes clearly written policies and guidelines, security briefings and implemented alert systems. And communication cuts both ways: allowing the employee to communicate with someone if things are going well or if they are not going well.

Pre-planning and assessment of potential issues along with their consequences (i.e. having written policies in place) is another duty of care principle: knowing what can happen as a result of relocation and the assignment is crucial. Another of the principles is to know where the employee is in the midst of relocation, which can be critical in the event of emergency. One of the final aspects of duty of care is partnering appropriately to ensure the highest possibility of success (these things can’t be done alone). Accepting outside partners’ professional expertise and experience is a key to exercising duty of care. These professionals are often in touch with relocating employees at key stages of their relocation and can alert companies to potential concerns in advance.

Does duty of care mix with lump sums?

Much has been written about the changing face of mobility – lower levels of support and greater reliance upon self-service. This lower level of support does impact a company’s duty of care obligations by making them harder to implement. Part of duty of care is to protect employees from their own choices and negligence. All Points Relocation Services Canada has seen companies choose lump sum programs for a variety of reasons: cost constraint, cost predictability, greater employee independence, etc.  However, one reason for lump sums is most certainly reduced administration. If taken too far this can run headlong into the concept of duty of care.  Does a company have a responsibility to protect employees from bad vendors?  For instance, a bad moving vendor could cost the employee all kinds of grief, time and money.  Without a destination service, an employee may not switch over his driver’s license and be uninsured for a vehicular accident.  She may not register locally where it is legally necessary. What about ensuring that the employee switches over to provincial health insurance or that they do their taxes correctly? The employee certainly has responsibilities in these realms, but does the company have responsibilities also in the era of duty of care? If employers have policies against texting and driving, is it a stretch to suggest that they should also protect employees from themselves who can be ignorant of these important tasks and choose not to spend their lump sum on them?  While it may seem more mundane than the possible kidnapping in an overseas location, the logical extension of the concept of duty of care does carry into these realms.  For instance, it is rare to find a company willing to risk the process of immigration to the point where the employee is not assisted by a professional. All Points Relocation Services Canada is seeing lump sum amounts used for both international and domestic relocation, but the duty of care obligation should remain – it is just a question as to how far it should stretch from protection from kidnapping to protection from a bad move experience.  This is an open question, but one that deserves to be asked.

All Points Relocation Services Canada asks where does the conversation go from here?

Companies should review their lump sum practices alongside their duty of care policies and see if they are in conflict with one another and if lump sums limit or increase the company’s overall liability.

Where does the line between inconvenience and emergency lie? Is being stopped at the US-Canada border for 72 hours constitute an acceptable inconvenience? Is an avoidable tax liability an unacceptable inconvenience?   Is a herniated disc because of lifting heavy furniture in the same league as other duty of care concerns being raised in international relocations? There are many such questions to ask, but in general companies should know that self-service lump sums move them further along the spectrum away from duty of care obligations that they have embraced elsewhere for different circumstances.

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