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The sudden death of an expatriate worker is a highly emotional time for all involved. Irrespective of cause, it catches everyone by surprise and beyond the emotional distress for you and your workforce, can have serious practical implications for you as an employer.

At NES we understand that whilst topics such as salary, allowances and assignment-related benefits are generally happily discussed, the prospect of death whilst on assignment can be considered a taboo subject for contractors and clients alike. Over 40 years of operation we’ve been on hand to help our multi-national clients through these difficult times and know that it’s not an easy subject to talk about, yet nonetheless it’s a vital consideration if you’ve got employees working jobs overseas.

Here we provide an overview of the areas for consideration which could save you and your expatriate’s family from a lot of hassle down the line.

Multi-national operators: how can you prepare your global mobility policy, and your expatriate workforce, for an unexpected death?

No matter which industry you’re in, be it oil and gas, renewable energy or life sciences, you must consider the possibility before it happens; to plan for unforeseeable circumstances; and to incorporate them into your global mobility policy. 

To ascertain if your global mobility policy is equipped to deal with the death of an expatriate, take the following into consideration:

  • Do you pay insurance for your employees while they are on assignment?
  • Does the insurance cover "death in service"?
  • Is your global mobility policy regularly reviewed to keep it current for new postings?
  • Are the expatriate’s personal contact details held in your HR files current and correct? How often do you review them?
  • Do you understand your expatriate’s religion? Of course, individuals have the right to refrain from sharing this information with you, but it’s important to understand that religion can have a significant impact on how one should be treated in the event of their death, meaning that you should give your workforce an opportunity to state their religion if they choose.
  •  Has your expatriate registered his / her presence at their Embassy / High Commission in the host location? Consider building this in as standard practise to your onboarding process.
  • Are your aware of the host country’s administrative processes concerning the death of foreign nationals?

What can you do to better support your expatriate’s family?

It goes without saying that there’s a moral obligation on your part to look after the expatriate’s family in the immediate aftermath. With a plan in place, repatriation of the deceased and the organisation of their estate can be orchestrated in a more efficient way, lessening the burden of such tasks for all parties. 

Be clear from the start: your tax policy must specify which taxes are covered by the policy.

For example, by plainly stating that inheritance taxes are not covered, this makes it clear that the expatriate is responsible for making sure that their family and beneficiaries are protected from additional, unanticipated taxation.

The location of assets, the citizenship of the deceased, and where the deceased was actually domiciled or resident at the time of death are also variables which can significantly impact the outcome of a will.

For the benefit of the expatriate’s family, your global mobility policy should address issues relating to the estate of the expatriate, as well as what specific provisions relating to the expatriate’s package, including repatriation, will be applied in the event of a death.

Alongside reviewing your own policies to ensure you are equipped for such matters, before mobilisation to site takes place, you need to speak to your expatriate workforce about some key areas of concern for them and their families where overseas work is concerned.

By preparing your workforce in such a way you’re demonstrating that you have their best interests at heart and may genuinely benefit their family should the worst happen.

The host jurisdiction may treat the deceased’s estate differently.

Whilst it is not your responsibility as the employer to ensure that your workforce has a copy of their written will, it is sensible to encourage this practise.

Before your workforce leaves their home country, tell them to travel with a copy of their will.

A will prepared under the laws of the expatriate’s home country may, at worst, be invalid under the laws in the host country, or certain aspects of it may be unenforceable.

Before your workforce leaves their home country, make sure that they are aware of this to prevent from further upset - they may wish to seek legal advice.

The family may be faced with unanticipated taxes.

It’s true that many countries have tax treaties to avoid double taxation, however such treaties don’t necessarily mean that it will be easy to determine which of the two (or more) jurisdictions has primary taxing rights.

Having placed thousands of technical engineers from 127 different nationalities onto projects in over 90 countries, we’re no strangers to expatriate legislation and our clients have expressed great gratitude towards our capacity to advise their practices during the most difficult of times. With our policy guidance, our clients have been able to support their workforce and their families with all practicalities, with minimal additional stress incurred for all parties.

To refine your Global Mobility policy to cover all eventualities, contact Georgia Frangou, Global Tax and Quality Manager, or find out more about our mobility services.

The spread of COVID-19 is affecting all of us. But as a global staffing company, NES would like to reassure our customers that we are fully operational across all our locations and are working closely with clients to ensure essential projects stay on track at this difficult time. For regular updates, please see our COVID-19 Support Hub.