Assistance services: a panacea for overseas employees

par Justine Gaignard-Parent | September 22 2014 11:24AM

Informing, predicting and preventing the worst is what the Duty of care imposes on businesses that send employees into an ever more turbulent world. Large companies can tap into their experience, but SMEs are ill-equipped for the worst, despite growing criminal liability. No country is completely safe anymore, says Patrick Collette, national director, Sales & Business Development for AXA Assistance Canada. “Just think about the events in Tahrir Square in Cairo in 2010. Previously, everyone thought of Egypt as low-risk. Then we had the Arab Spring. There’s also London, attacked by terrorists in 2005 without warning. What’s going on in the Ukraine today is another sign of this mounting instability,” he points out..

Marc Giguère, vice-president of Intrepid 24/7, says that recent events have shown that even places considered safe, like the United States and Europe, are now seen as risky environments. “Employees are increasingly at risk, while employers are increasingly exposed to lawsuits,” he says.

On March 31, 2004, the Canadian government, like its counterparts in many other countries, introduced the Duty of care in the Criminal Code. Specifying obligations of businesses toward their employees, Bill C-45 increases criminal liability related to employee protection, and prescribes penalties for companies that have not put in place reasonable measures to avoid compromising workers’ health and safety. “This new law means that a company can be sued for criminal negligence if it has not taken reasonable measures to inform and prepare its employees overseas to respond to a crisis,” Mike Vallee, senior manager at Intrepid 24/7, explains.

More and more countries are witnessing criminal prosecution against organizations that have failed in their duty of care. “Businesses must understand that an employee overseas becomes an extension of their office in the country in question,” Patrick Collette says. He adds that large companies like Bombardier and SNC Lavalin tend to be well prepared and aware of their duty, but not all SMEs have the tools to provide the required protection.

Well aware of the precautions that businesses that send employees overseas must now take, assistance services have developed products specially designed to meet the duty of care. “Assistance services let companies reduce risk and obey the law, without having to spend millions of dollars,” says Marc Giguère.

Intrepid 24/7 recently launched the Duty Care Safety Travel Package for employers. The software aimed at business clients and group insurers includes services like the mobile application Travel Navigator, part of their existing product line.

“This application gives employees information on medical care in countries they visit, warns them when their safety may be at risk and offers advice while supplying various useful tools like currency converters. It also features assistance service that provides immediate access to medical experts and other resources in emergency situations,” Giguère explains. In addition to this mobile app, the Duty of care packages offers 24/7 security service on demand, a pre-trip security analysis and even emergency response services.

AXA Assistance makes medical security and assistance constantly available via mobile application and by telephone. “Customers call us not only to assist but to prevent risk and react when worse comes to worst,” Patrick Collette says.

AXA recently teamed up with iJet International, a firm that offers risk management solutions. Together, the two companies prepare businesses and their employees by providing country information, advice on medical precautions and security advisories.

“iJet helps us prevent risk by doing monitoring, which means they watch the social media and traditional media, and work with correspondents overseas to see crises coming,” Collette points out.

The mobile application informs travellers of current or probable happenings on location. “At a lower risk level, visitors to Montreal have received alerts when a demonstration was being planned downtown during the Maple Spring, for example. They could then change hotels or their itinerary in advance based on this information,” he said.

This partnership lets the insurers respond directly at the crisis core. “We can quickly form crisis cells, ease the repatriation of employees and take charge as soon as a crisis breaks out,” Patrick Collette explains.

Both AXA Assistance and iJet offer assistance services through partnerships with various insurance companies.