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Ask Aliya: How to Safeguard Your Employees Traveling Abroad

“Ask Aliya” is a column for lawyers who are the first legal hire at their company and need advice from an in-house lawyer who has been there before. Aliya Ramji is the director of legal and business strategy for Figure 1 Inc., a network used by more than 1 million healthcare professionals to share cases and collaborate. To have your legal questions for startups answered, email [email protected] with "Ask Aliya" in the subject line.

Dear Aliya,

My company is very risk averse and given the recent extradition issues in Canada and the United States, my start-up is hesitant to send employees on business to foreign countries where international relations are problematic. What general issues should we consider before sending employees on international business trips? And what, specifically, should we do about possible travel to hostile nations?


Passepartout, JD

Dear Passepartout,

Given the uncertain political climate around the world, I understand your concerns. Here are some security measures that you can take to help safeguard your staff — but please note that none of these is foolproof and you will need to consult counsel in your own jurisdiction to ensure the safety of your employees.

1. Perform a risk assessment

What’s the state of international relations between your company’s home country and the destination country? Does your country have any travel advisories in place? For instance, as I type this, the Government of Canada says travellers should “exercise a high degree of caution in China due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.“

Ensure the traveling employee understands these risks and can make informed decisions. Perhaps leaving the hotel in the evenings or sightseeing in their time off is not advisable but the employee should understand the risks.

Part of your risk assessment should include an evaluation of how your specific business is regarded in the country and whether the particular employee is vulnerable in this country. Consider whether the country discriminates based on race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation, and whether the employee will be safe.

[Related: Ensuring the Safety of Your Global Workforce]

Larger organizations may want to institute a travel risk management policy in order to plan for hostile countries. This could include a duty of care plan to demonstrate that they are aware of the dangers and are taking steps to minimize the associated risks.

Employees should be trained about how to remain safe in a country where there may be political issues and the company may want to ensure that legal counsel abroad is arranged in case of emergency.

This may include a workshop on the social and political state of the destination country, or a primer on dress codes in the cultural environment. The company may also want to implement and teach a standard emergency response procedure for all travelling employees.

2. Check your insurance

You know travel and health insurance are a must for all employees who are undertaking business travel. But there are other types of insurance that are generally not part of a company’s policies but may be obtained if there is any reason to suspect danger.

Kidnap and ransom insurance exists to protect an employee in the event that a payment must be made. In the shipping and aviation industries, war risk insurance exists to cover the people and items inside the carrier.

And of course, other policies may cover accidental death or dismemberment. Check your policies and assess whether you are adequately covered.

3. Follow along from home

In extremely hostile situations, you will want a very thorough plan of your employee’s movements and whereabouts within the country. Be aware of the meetings the employee will attend and have a direct line of contact available 24/7.

[Related: How to Protect Client Information While Traveling]

If it is necessary, ensure employees have a local cell phone and a list of emergency contacts in different time zones. Depending on the risk assessment, you may want to consider remote GPS monitoring through a GPS bracelet or a smartphone app.

Moreover, it would be diligent to register with your embassy in hostile countries so that they are aware of the employee’s local presence. You may also want employees to have the appropriate business travel documents to help protect you at the borders.

4. Sanity check

In this age of digital meeting solutions, you are well positioned to ask if the risky travel is even necessary. Many will say that nothing can replace a firm handshake and eye-to-eye contact, but as the costs of hazardous travel start to mount, this assumption deserves scrutiny.

Parting note

There are recent examples of employees who have traveled to hostile nations, been detained or stripped of their diplomatic rights and immunities, or have been subjected to interrogations and kidnappings. Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor and Sarah McIver, are examples of three Canadians who have recently been detained in China and subject to such treatment.

It is important that you conduct a proper risk assessment of your employee’s travel destinations and mitigate risks by taking precautions. It may seem like overkill, but employee safety should be your ultimate North Star.

Keep your employees safe,


About the Author

Aliya RamjiAliya Ramji is the director of legal and business strategy for Figure 1 Inc. She also was a 2016 recipient of ACC’s Top 10 30-Somethings.

The information in any resource collected in this virtual library should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on specific facts and should not be considered representative of the views of its authors, its sponsors, and/or ACC. These resources are not intended as a definitive statement on the subject addressed. Rather, they are intended to serve as a tool providing practical advice and references for the busy in-house practitioner and other readers.