The bottom line is that employers need to be familiar with and sufficiently address the issues facing their workers who travel and/or perform work abroad.
As of late 2014, the United States faced no Ebola pandemic whatsoever. Overseas business travel liability awareness has increased. The odds of catching Ebola in an American workplace remained statistically zero. Only a handful of Ebola cases had made their way to the United States, and a few hospitals aside, every American workplace remained Ebola-free. Only two employees had caught Ebola on an American job site—both at the same Dallas hospital. Both survived.
And yet American employers have been battening down for the Ebola pandemic possibly to come. Industrial health and safety experts have been recommending Ebola protective measures. Conferences on Ebola have been scheduled. Law firms have issued bulletins
explicating the theoretical legal issues that might emerge were Ebola to infect American workplaces. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration has even drawn criticism for not giving employers enough detailed guidance on preventing Ebola.
Meanwhile, where an actual Ebola pandemic rages in real time and endangers countless workers is West Africa, particularly Liberia, Sierra Leone and parts of Mali and Guinea. The World Health Organisation had declared Africa’s Ebola pandemic a “Public Health
Emergency of International Concern.” The pandemic has killed well over 5,000 Africans with “more than 150 Liberian medical workers [having] died from Ebola.” (S. Fink, “Treating Those Treating Ebola in Liberia,” The New York Times, Nov. 6, 2014)
As of 2014, the most urgent real-world Ebola risk threatening the American workforce is in Africa—that is, the danger US-based staff face when traveling for work to West Africa. Think of researchers, journalists, consultants, medical relief workers, infrastructure development teams, government staff, government contractors, and American expatriates who happen to live and work where Ebola strikes.
And so the most practical Ebola question that employers should be asking about their American staff is: What is our liability risk as to our US-based employees and expatriates who contract Ebola while working overseas?
Duty of Care requires that you protect people from harm where you know there is a potential risk. Workplace violence has become an all too often occurrence these days. I’m still surprised at the lack of planning for terminations. In many cases, senior management is telling security and HR they are over reacting. If you don’t take adequate steps, you can be found liable. Why is it we plan for meetings, presentations as well as budgets, yet when it comes to terminations it is an after thought? I constantly read quotes such as “he was a really nice guy” or “she was a great worker”. Good people sometimes do bad things when a trigger goes off setting in motion a chain of events. Also, these ‘really great people’ are on social media discussing hurting people, need for revenge, or corporate greed. Past violence is a predictor of future violence. I recently saw a picture online of a man holding a gun with all sorts of ramblings about getting even with a coworker. Scary stuff!
What should you consider prior to terminating an individual?
1. Complete a threat risk assessment. What are the risks – high, medium and
2. Based on the risks what measures should be considered?
3. Does the individual have a social media footprint?
4. Ongoing monitoring of social media. What has been posted online for the last 30 days and what is happening post termination? Social media can be data mined and can paint a clear picture.
We have seen posts on social media such as “I use to have a job and life. Not anymore.” This individual threatened the HR manager and their family a few short hours after this post.
5. Will security be required? How much? When and where? If you have security are they equipped and trained to deal with workplace violence situations? All guards are not created equal.
6. Will surveillance be required to track movements following the termination in high-risk scenarios?
These are just a few of the many things to think about. Without taking time to understand the threat, you may find yourself in a risky situation. The costs of not having a plan can be huge.