While the issue of stranded workers is complex and fast-moving, there is much that businesses can do to protect themselves. Here are four key considerations.
1. Companies must first accurately assess their immediate circumstances. Businesses need to understand which countries are providing relief and leniency and which aren’t—and make certain that information is up-to-date. This requires regular country-by-country monitoring.
2. Accurate assessment also includes knowing where workers are in the first place. And that’s not always as simple as it sounds. “A large organization will have people traveling for business all the time,” says Orme. “I travel hundreds of thousands of miles a year. It’s very difficult to track. I don't know any client who could tell you, within two hours, where all its people are.”
While many companies track employee location through travel approvals and processes around expense reimbursement, there are now sophisticated tools, including mobile apps, to manage personnel-related risk in this area. As well as tracking location, they can trigger alerts when the mobile worker nears permitted thresholds for remaining in that location.
3. Workers should be given protocols to help them avoid triggering permanent establishment. For example, companies could stipulate that workers shouldn't spend more than 30 or 90 days in a particular jurisdiction. Activities must be limited to those deemed appropriate by that jurisdiction and the company’s protocols.
4. As travel restrictions gradually lift, the issue of how to protect people will remain fundamental for organizations. Companies may be able to move stranded people out, but how will they approach it? Prioritization is key.
“Look at what is critical,” says Seema Farazi, EY Global Immigration Partner and EMEIA COVID-19 PAS Response Leader. “Where are your high-risk people stranded? Where do you have people with pressured family situations? Where are the business-critical people who need to be moved quickly? What are the key locations you need to travel to?
“You need to wrap your arms around that population, where they're moving, their travel history, and what their potential exposure is. Then focus on what can be achieved against current restrictions and agree on the right course of action for your people and your business.”
The next normal
With the virus under control in some countries, such as New Zealand, thoughts are quite naturally turning to what happens next. Yet with other countries bracing for a second wave, even New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledges border controls will remain in place for some time. Restricted travel is likely to form part of the business world’s next normal.
“A lot of people see the issue of stranded workers as a temporary matter,” Dalton says. “But I think there will be a level of permanence to it.”
As the world finds its post-pandemic rhythm, some aspects of the business world will remain unchanged. Despite travel restrictions, global mobility – of new talent and executives alike – will continue to be the lifeblood of modern international business.