COVID-19 Updates

The Evolution of Duty of Care Due to COVID-19

June 3, 2020


For mobility managers, Duty of Care has been defined as an organization’s responsibility to protect employees involved in relocations (e.g., permanent moves, short-term assignments, extended business travel). Protective measures typically encompass ensuring the safety, security, and physical wellbeing of the mobile employee and their family and ensuring the compliance of the employee’s stay with local laws and regulations. At this point in time, ensuring the mental wellbeing of the mobile employee is paramount as well.

Duty of Care can arguably be extended to encompass providing support in direct reaction to the physical and mental restrictions caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. For those employees currently on assignment or living in a host location, the pandemic creates unique pressures that mobility managers may want to take into consideration.

Take, for example, the easing of quarantine and shelter-in-place restrictions that is occurring in many places around the world. For many months, we have waited to safely see family and friends again (staying socially distanced and taking the proper precautions), and the ability to venture outside of one’s home is a much-needed relief after months of confinement. For those living in a host location, such relief may not be felt, as these individuals do not have their extended family or home location’s friends and neighbors close by. Although alleviation of some COVID-19-related stress may be experienced, an overall disappointment at the level of relief is a strong possibility.

In general, assignment success is always potentially hindered by a mobile employee’s inability to adapt to a host location. This is the motivator for many organizations’ implementation of candidate assessment and cross-cultural training programs, which focus on the ability of the employee to culturally adapt. Activities that ease cultural adaptation also typically include pastimes and experiences that integrate the mobile employee into the community, such as sporting events and gatherings celebrating regional holidays and local milestones.

In the current environment, restaurants, museums, parks, and cultural destinations and events are shut down around the world. Employees living abroad or away from home are losing months of time they would typically have spent combatting isolation or difficulties adjusting to a new location with “indulgent” and comforting activities. There is presently little to no opportunity for mobile employees to immerse themselves in the local culture through activities like dining in and tasting the local cuisine or stopping by the pub after work.

Speaking of work, there are also those on-assignment employees who moved to work in a different office. That move — to be physically present in a work environment — has now been rendered temporarily pointless, as the office is closed, and all its employees are working remotely to respect shelter-in-place mandates.

With these nuances in mind, it is now vital to approach mobile employees on assignment with an added layer of support and understanding. A few potential approaches to supporting your mobile employees in this unique circumstance include:

  • Reaching out to the employee personally
  • Connecting your employees currently on assignment to provide a support network of shared experience
  • Providing assistance through additional relocation benefits
  • Determining how the general health and wellness support offered by the organization (e.g., counseling, trainings, employee assistance programs) may be extended or adapted for specialized support

Pushed to new depths by this global pandemic, an organization’s Duty of Care has evolved to include responsive, empathic support for a mobile employee’s mental and emotional wellbeing. Should this more inclusive approach remain for the long run, it would be a considerable benefit for future employees in any circumstance.