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Five Areas to Consider when Building Compliance into your Mobility Program

As jobs and workplaces have evolved over the past couple years, so have the ways that employees and employers think about where and how they work – and how that work needs to be monitored and managed. With so many work scenarios available following COVID-19, it’s no wonder compliance has heightened beyond an already serious concern for Mobility Managers and HR leaders alike.

Imagine something like this happening in your organization:

A Canadian-based company assigned a team leader from their home office to open a new regional sales center in a western European country. Since she was a Canadian citizen and could travel visa-free to Europe, she accepted the assignment. On arrival, she negotiated a lease for an office suite and, within several months, built a local leadership team. She stayed for a few more months to coach, train and observe the team’s managers and to help nurture some emerging business opportunities.

One day, though, she received an official notice from the host country’s government that she not only had exceeded her permitted time in the country, but also that she’d engaged in activities outside of the scope of work that her work visa allowed for. She was ordered to leave the country immediately and wouldn’t be allowed to return. Her employer was also at risk of facing serious consequences.

This scenario demonstrates the importance of not only understanding compliance and legal obligations during a mobile employee assignment, but also of monitoring activities throughout the assignment to avoid violations, fees or hefty fines.


Five core areas of mobility compliance

At any given time, an organization’s employees may work outside of the office in a variety of ways, including “work from home” and “work from anywhere” arrangements. More complex still, the term “mobile employee” could mean different things, depending on the situation, including: short-term traveler, extended business traveler, a short-term or long-term assignee, commuters (cross-border) or a worker seeking a permanent transfer.

Each of these working situations comes with varying local, regional, or national considerations (legal, security, and health and medical requirements) and plenty of opportunities to fall out of compliance.

Relocation management companies (RMCs), also known as relocation providers, are uniquely qualified and resourced to keep mobile employees on assignment and their organizations compliant in these five core areas:

  1. Visa and immigration - Employees assigned to work in another country need to have proper visas and permits to work and live in their new locations. These documents may need to be updated if the assignment changes, and they might need to be renewed during the assignment if the anticipated work period is longer than the visa would typically cover. RMCs track these critical steps, notify employees about renewal deadlines and provide enough lead time for their follow through. RMCs also have the capabilities to integrate information from client business tracking tools to monitor travel into and out of the country, documenting this activity for compliance as it relates to visas and permits.
  2. Taxes – Mobile employees on international assignments need to comply with local tax requirements. The accounting firms that often handle these matters for major organizations must be advised of all the details about an assignee’s relocation package, compensation, reimbursement, travel and benefits. As described below in more detail, an RMC’s mobility management platform serves as the repository of that information and can securely share it with key stakeholders as needed.
  3. Social security programs/totalization agreements – Employees also may be required to comply with government social security and safety net programs in both host and home countries, where applicable. Dual tax liability matters are typically addressed by the company’s tax service provider based, in part, on critical information from the RMC regarding specific details of a mobile employee assignment.
  4. Health insurance – Employer health plan coverage outside the home country may be handled by a different insurer or plan in the host or destination country. Different host countries may have differing health requirements for entry. RMCs can easily inform the respective carriers about the initiation and discontinuation dates for a mobile employee based on the employee’s travel schedule.
  5. Data security – Many countries have laws requiring organizations to maintain enhanced IT security standards to protect the personally identifiable information (PII) of their employees working in that country. This can be difficult to stay on top of when considering that these requirements can change from country to country. RMCs stay up to date on these mandates and manage each mobile employee’s records in a safe, compliant manner, collecting only the PII that’s necessary and adopting best-in-class security protocols.


Mobility is uniquely positioned to monitor compliance

Why is an RMC an ideal partner to support mobile employee compliance? An RMC’s mobility management platform serves as the source of truth for every assignment, already containing data and related information for every employee that is so necessary for compliance in all the areas identified above.

This information must flow in both directions, between the RMC and the organization’s designated service partners (e.g., accounting, tax, payroll and immigration). This enables each to do their part to keep the organization in compliance and relieve HR and other teams from this significant detailed, labor-intensive work.

With complete, accurate mobile employee assignment information that’s securely stored in one place, enhanced by customized data importing and exporting protocols, mobility compliance becomes routine, providing predictable and reliable results.


Post-pandemic compliance

In the second quarter of 2020, mobile employees on assignment were suddenly scrambling to avoid anticipated lockdowns and were moving to locations where these restrictions were expected to be less severe. RMCs worked nonstop to support these relocations and provided real-time employee location information to companies and to their tax and immigration service partners.

In the months that followed, employees began working from home, and then some were working from “anywhere.” With RMCs’ expertise in documenting employees’ locations and their systems for reporting this information to tax and immigration service partners, RMCs were frequently called on to track these steps in collaboration with the tax partner to avoid any pitfalls.


The expanding role of mobility in organizational compliance

For years, mobility was viewed as a transactional function, with very little recognition of the benefits its expertise could bring to the table in terms of organizational strategy. The area of compliance was no exception. But mobility has proven its value and risen to the occasion in new ways in very recent years as the international business environment has become more complex and uncertain. Support for compliance in critical functions across the organization is one of the most significant new contributions.

Graebel’s experienced team members are empowered to go above and beyond expectations, and are committed to providing people-first mobility. To learn more about how Graebel is uniquely qualified to support mobility-related aspects of your compliance needs, contact us for more information.


About the Author

Michelle Mara is Vice President of Mobility Strategy. A native of Minnesota, Michelle has been in the real estate and relocation industry for over 25 years. Prior to working in the relocation industry, she had a successful career in mortgage banking working in the loan origination and servicing areas of the industry. Michelle spent several years at Prudential Relocation as an onsite consultant and manager with Fortune 500 clients such as 3M and St. Paul Travelers before joining SIRVA Relocation as director of client services, managing one of their largest global accounts. She joined Graebel in 2006 and implemented and managed Graebel’s two largest accounts. She has also managed a number of departments and offices within Graebel. Michelle currently leads Graebel's mobility strategy team, which helps clients develop competitive policies and analyze their programs for efficiencies and other improvements. Michelle has received numerous awards such as the Chairman Circle Award and 100 percent client and team transferee satisfaction scores. She holds the Worldwide ERC® Certified Relocation Professional (CRP®) and Global Mobility Specialist (GMS-T®) designations. In addition, Michelle holds a Minnesota real estate license and GRI certificate.

Profile Photo of Michelle Mara