The COVID-19 pandemic put travel on pause for the better part of two years. While most think about this in the context of missing out on a European summer, its business travel that has perhaps changed for good.
With Zoom, Teams and the like rendering many face-to-face meetings redundant, corporate travel may never return to its pre-COVID levels. Having said that, with global vaccination rates going up and international borders coming down, a revised version of business travel is back on the agenda in 2022.
In addition, the pandemic has also opened many businesses up to the idea of flexible working, with COVID-19 proving that employees can indeed work from any location, in any time zone, while still showing the same or better levels of productivity. This has led to a situation where some employees are stretching the definitions of remote work and, in some instances, are even moving permanently while keeping their current jobs.
This new world is adding a new layer of complexity for employers in how they handle insurance policies for travelling and expatriate employees. Following two years of not really having to worry about it, it’s certainly not a case of picking back up where we left off when assessing the risks associated with workplace-endorsed travel.
COVID, after all, is not going away. New variants will continue to emerge, and bring new lockdowns, border closures and quarantine rules in their wake. More flights will be cancelled. More jabs will be needed. And it's highly likely that more restrictions on movement will re-emerge without warning in countries all over the globe.
This new environment raises all new questions for employers around what their insurance policies cover for those pursuing work abroad, whether temporarily or permanently. It’s important to note that each policy will differ depending on the country, duration of stay, insurer, and terms and conditions of the policy wording.
Through our experience in recent months, we have identified five key points for employers to consider when assessing corporate travel and expatriate insurance in a new COVID-normal world.
Do corporate travel policies provide overseas medical expense cover for employees? If so, does this extend to COVID-related illnesses? If not, what are the alternatives?
Over the past 12-18 months, many insurers operating in the Corporate Travel space have excluded overseas medical expense cover arising from COVID-19 related illnesses. However, there are still a number that cover COVID-related illnesses. Employers ensuring a policy includes COVID-related coverage will do more to deliver on their duty of care, and avoid uncertainty and ambiguity against a backdrop of a rapidly and continually evolving pandemic.
What risk mitigation procedures does an insurer expect from an employer to help employees avoid COVID, particularly while travelling?
To limit risk, insurers expect that employers will:
- Monitor travel and COVID advice for all relevant locations
- Observe the relevant entry/exit COVID testing requirements
- Maintain discipline around social distancing, wearing masks, frequent handwashing, etc.
- Ensure the employee is fully vaccinated (including boosters, as required).
What is the maximum number of trips an employee can take and still be covered by Corporate travel policies?
Restrictions on travel over the last two years could mean workplace corporate travel policies could only permit a small number of trips. Employers would be wise to check the declared trip numbers are adequate now that travel restrictions have been eased.
If an employee has moved overseas, does insurance need to be obtained locally?
Depending on the country of residence, the rules and regulations outlining how and where insurance is to be obtained will differ. Employers should check with insurers that the policy administered from the country of origin will provide worldwide coverage and that the country of residence accepts “non-admitted” policies. If permanently residing overseas, accessing private health insurance or the Medicare equivalent may provide the necessary coverage.
Will any medical expenses be covered under Workers’ Compensation?
Typically, Workers’ Compensation Schemes provide coverage to domestic workers and will only pay expenses to locally registered providers. It is important to ensure corporate travel and expatriate policies will respond in the event of an accident or illness while an employee is overseas. It is not until the employee returns to the country of origin and receives ongoing medical attention that the Workers’ Compensation Scheme may respond.
In a world of newfound complexity, there are many COVID-related complications to consider for corporate travel and expatriate policies. There are many grey areas that still remain, for example, what about people who are immunocompromised choosing to travel and becoming ill on an employer’s watch? Or the unvaccinated? Or those who travel against government advice?
There is no simple answer to any of these questions, and no insurance policy will ever account for every eventuality. However, the best that employers can do to protect themselves is to seek expert advice while we all muddle our way through this next phase of the pandemic together.