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Personal injury from working overseas? – What you should know

It is a sign of a progressive and dynamic economy that employees are increasingly mobile and travelling to work in locations around the globe. That is to be welcomed by everyone. In return for being prepared to travel, employees can expect generous salary packages, allowances and benefits which are often far more attractive than what is available locally or in the North Sea.  What is not so widely publicised is that with the advantages of overseas contacts, there are also significant drawbacks. 
We all know that safety standards around the globe are not at the same level that we expect in the UK. The statistics show that employees working overseas are exposed to greater risks and are more likely to suffer injury at work. They are exposed to risks not just when they are working but when they are travelling to and from work, while they are in their accommodation, etc. 
In Scotland and in the UK as a whole, legislation built up over many years has created a  raft of measures designed to protect employees. The first aspect to that is a rigorous Health & Safety regime designed to keep employees as safe as possible while they are at work. The second aspect is that if things do go wrong and an employee is injured, he is protected by UK Employee Rights backed up by the UK Courts. An employee working overseas can often find themselves in a very different position.  In the UK employers are obliged to carry employers’ liability insurance. They are obliged to comply with UK Health & Safety Legislation. If they fail to do so the employee has recourse to the UK Courts. It is not necessarily so if the accident happens overseas. 
An employee might start off working for an employer in Aberdeen or elsewhere in the UK. With new assignments as their career progresses, they may be transferred to a new employer or perhaps to an associated company. They may switch to an international payroll or to an overseas subsidiary. Over time the employee’s links with the UK may be reduced to the point that they fall out of the classification of a UK worker and the protection that brings. 
That is where things can get difficult. We are increasingly seeing cases of workers who have been injured whilst working overseas. If an accident happens in the UK and an employee is injured, it can be far from straightforward trying to obtain compensation. It can be much more difficult if the injury happens in, for example, Sub Saharan Africa. 
The small print might seem unimportant when new assignments are accepted but it can become hugely problematic if things go wrong. Very often companies will be structured in such a way as to protect the company from exposure to liability as far as possible. They make it very difficult for employees to pursue claims against them. An employee might find that technically they are employed by the company in perhaps Cyprus or The Bahamas where there are tighter limits on what an employee can claim if he is injured. Even then, the employer company may have little, if any, connection with the work being carried out. Any claim may have to be pursued in the country where the work was being done. Employees can be faced with trying to pursue a Court action in a country with an underdeveloped legal system which may not be a party to international legal treaties and where there will be language, cost and cultural obstacles. 
The irony is that while there may be numerable obstacles put in the path of the employee, the company will almost certainly be backed by a multi-national insurance company with legal advisers in every state to ensure that the company’s interests are fully protected. 
The availability of medical treatment is another concern. Many workers find themselves in remote locations without easy access to proper emergency medical treatment. Without the NHS, medical treatment will often be delayed until the Hospital is satisfied that they will be paid for providing treatment. 
It must not be taken for granted that workers overseas will have the same protection that a UK worker has. It cannot be assumed that the usual Scottish Laws and Scottish Legal system will apply. The message is that employees taking up assignments overseas have to know the full picture. They should get their own legal advice to make sure that arrangements are put in place to protect themselves, their family and their loved ones. If the worst happens and they are injured while working overseas, they have to make sure they seek legal advice from Solicitors who are experienced in dealing with international accident claims.
If you are considering working overseas or would like advice about international accident claims, contact Julie Clark-Spence or advice on employment contracts, contact Robert Holland