Ignorance Is No Excuse and Can Land You in Jail
In light of the story of the British woman jailed for smuggling painkillers into Egypt, Punter Southall Health & Protection have warned companies sending personnel abroad that it is their "duty of care to ensure employees understand the legislation and cultural differences of that country."
British retail worker Laura Plummer, was recently arrested in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada after she was found to be carrying 290 Tramadol tablets in her suitcase, a painkiller that is legal in the UK but is banned in Egypt.
She was convicted of smuggling and is now serving a 3-year sentence.
Audrey Rowley, managing consultant international of Punter Southall Health & Protection has offered some recommendations for companies sending people abroad:
- Ensure the employee is medically fit
- Make sure any drugs and medication that the employee/family needs are legal
- Give cultural training prior to travel
- Language skills – consider offering language courses where appropriate
- Consider an expatriate Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which can provide employees with 24/7 support
- Provide international medical insurance.
“Failed assignments cost businesses thousands of pounds and create huge emotional stress for employees and their families. Individuals selected for overseas posts tend to be high fliers, so it makes real business sense for companies to ensure they fully prepare and support them pre, during and post their international assignments,” said Rowley.
“There are many affordable expatriate services available today to help companies get it right. These include pre-assignment health screening to ensure someone is fit for the assignment, cultural training for the whole family, comprehensive travel and medical insurance packages and access to Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) throughout the assignment. Such services are relatively cost-effective for Employers, and the assurance and value they give employees is priceless.”
According to Real Business, KPMG has found that only 38% per cent of businesses offer cross-cultural training to assignees and family, and 35% per cent do not offer any cross-cultural training at all.
This is a real issue and a failure in duty of care. In the Middle East - particularly in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, for example, there are believed to be hundreds of expats in jail for misdemeanours that would not be considered criminal in their home country.
Cross-cultural training lowers the risks of falling foul of the law as individuals gain an understanding of critical areas such as local expectations, laws and taboos.