The recent turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa has raised the question of what an employers obligations are to its employees in those countries. While the situation in Egypt remained relatively peaceful, Libya is rapidly becoming increasingly dangerous. What do employers do?
Many multinational employers have already removed expatriate workers from these danger zones. CNN World reports that countries, including the U.S., are assisting companies evacuating their citizens from Libya.
Under U.S. law, employers are typically responsible for local employees only during working hours. However, employers could be responsible for the safety of expatriates 24 hours a day. Expatriates tend to be more vulnerable than locals during an uprising and protesters could potentially turn on foreign workers. U.S. expatriates could be particularly at risk as some of the protesters have expressed anti-American sentiment.
Multinational companies should first protect their expatriate employees and work with government officials to evacuate them. Companies should then take steps to limit their liability in the future through insurance, such as workers’ compensation insurance. While they can have employees sign assumption of the risk waivers before going to foreign countries, waivers of these types are frequently not enforced by U.S. courts. The bottom line is that multinational companies need to stay abreast of volatile situations and should attempt to evacuate expatriate employees if there are indications violence may erupt.