50% of companies currently have no policy in place for dealing with a pandemic according to ECA International, the world’s leading provider of knowledge, information and technology for the management and assignment of employees around the world.

Over the last ten years various pandemics have occurred in diverse locations around the globe and the current Ebola outbreak has once again raised the issue of international HR’s role in crisis planning. In response to this ECA conducted a spot survey to find out what provisions multinational companies have in place to deal with pandemics. 189 companies took part.

“That half of the companies we surveyed have no policy in place is rather surprising,” said Andrew Shaw, Managing Director, ECA International. “With cross-border travelling increasing the potential for transmission around the world, multinational organisations have a responsibility to be prepared for such events and every good business continuity plan should have measures in place to deal with this kind of risk.” 

The two most common measures in place among companies that do have a policy are the provision of a safe working environment (83%) and a business continuity plan should people no longer be able to travel to work (78%).

Three quarters of companies with a policy said they would return any expatriate staff, if possible, and/or their family in the event of a pandemic. Only a very small number of companies increase hardship allowances (4%) or provide a new exceptional allowance (5%) in these circumstances.

“In a pandemic situation there will be issues specific to expatriates,” Shaw continued. “Global mobility teams need to ensure that these are also addressed within any crisis policy so that everyone is prepared and responsibilities clear. Considerations include how to deal with the expatriate’s family, knowing who to contact and how to reach people far from HQ as well as defining how much more care, if any, is reasonable to give to expatriates than to locally employed staff.”

Of the companies surveyed with staff in West Africa 74% were monitoring the situation but not yet doing anything. Almost 20% were restricting movement in and out of the region, and 23% within the region.

ECA recommends that IHR engage with the business continuity team to ensure there is a plan and that it takes expatriates into consideration; monitor government warnings and feedback from people on the ground; and work with a specialist provider to help with policy or advise on case-by-case scenarios.