This article was updated on Oct. 4, 2018.

Keeping employees safe abroad is an HR responsibility that typically accompanies success in the global economy. That responsibility is to balance risk, cultural factors and specific resources at each destination. According to the, the State Department estimates there are 6.8 million Americans living overseas in 160 different countries — many of them working for U.S.-based firms.

There are useful and effective measures that an employer can take to mitigate risk. What follows are three general categories of risk mitigation that large employers have used:

1. Employ Local Resources

Countries vary greatly in the local services they offer to support U.S.-based employers, but there are a few commonalities:

  • Contact the local U.S. embassy and police services in the jurisdiction where the employee will be operating or traveling.
  • Security firms can supplement physical security in country.
  • Think through common scenarios: petty theft of ID or cash, lost luggage or products, authorized shipping brokers and family issues (minors may have different travel and risk issues).
  • "Duty-of-Care" is seen as a minimum obligation for employees, but practical recourse for health or safety emergencies are often dependent on location.

2. Resources at Home

The U.S. government provides warnings via the Department of State, grouped into Travel Warnings (for concerns such as unstable governments) and Travel Alerts (for specific short-term events, such as a disease outbreak).

The Department of Commerce hosts the International Trade Administration, which offers trade counseling. Its access to local legal and regulatory issues in the target country may include information that employees will need for safety, health and emergency services.

In addition to these government resources, consider private firms such as Europ Assistance, On Call International and International SOS.

International SOS is a U.K.-based firm with offices worldwide. It offers travel, medical and security specialty services to a variety of U.S. employers. International SOS says it has fielded 4,700,000 assistance calls.

Additional assistance could come from sector-specific associations.

3. Employee Training and Notification

Even the best and most timely resources will fall short if employees are not fully aware of what they have access to or provided with cultural orientation. This important training can fall under the purview of business managers to make sure everyone is up to speed.

Risk Contexts: Bigger Broader

EY produces a Global Mobility Effectiveness Survey intended to understand best practices and trends in how firms manage worker mobility more generally. EY points out that the issue likely reaches beyond simple employee safety to broader issues in talent management, compliance, tracking and repatriation.

Keeping employees safe abroad will entail arduous work developing role-specific teams within your organization: HR, Chief Learning Officer, in-house counsel, CFO, in-country and contract resources may all be called upon. But the cost, both financially and in the investment of time, is small compared to the cost of endangering even just one of your employees working on foreign soil.

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