Avoiding legal risks when sending staff abroad

While employees are away on overseas assignments, what obligations does an employer have to take under Singapore law?

Avoiding legal risks when sending staff abroad
When it comes to sending staff overseas for business, there is a duty of care in the employer-employee relationship under common law and legislation, said Bertrand Saillet, general manager of FCM Travel Solutions Singapore.
“Under the common law, the employer is expected to take reasonable care not to expose its employees to unnecessary risk. Otherwise, the employee is entitled to sue his employer for damages relating to the injury suffered.”
Whether there has been a breach of this duty of care depends on whether the actions taken by the employer were both prudent and reasonable.
“In the context of employees who are made to travel overseas for work, it is likely that the court will balance the gravity of the risk involved and the likelihood of the employee being injured, versus the employer’s cost of taking preventive measures.”
An employer who regularly sends their employees overseas for work may be obliged to prepare a travel policy or handbook as well as sufficient information and training to staff. The level of support provided depends on the nature of the employee’s work and the level of risk involved.
“Relevant work-related legislation and common law both impose a duty of care on employers to take all reasonably practicable measures to ensure the safety and health of its employees,” Saillet said.
In present times when it is common for employees to travel, the employer’s statutory or common law duty of care is highly likely to extend to those travelling overseas, he added.
“As such, local companies as well as foreign companies based in Singapore must be mindful of their obligations, and as far as reasonably practicable, identify any possible or related risks that their employees may be exposed to overseas.”
As well as addressing these risks through the proper corporate policies, employers should also make the appropriate training procedures, welfare facilities and emergency plans readily available and understandable to all relevant staff.
“Otherwise, an employer may find itself liable for both civil remedies and criminal penalties under Singapore law,” Saillet said.
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