“Can an employer strand an employee overseas?”

Question: Hi, my question is I have a friend stranded in another country after he was sent there by his employer. He ran out of money and can’t get home. His friends and family, though poor, are having to pitch in money to help him return.  

Can an employer transfer an employee to a different country, far away from home, and then refuse to bring that employee back to his home country? What is your advice to him? Thank you.

Wynn M.   
New Market, Alabama

Answer: Dear Wynn,        

Your friend’s situation is frightening, but I must say I’ve heard stories like his before.       

1. A transfer to another country does not necessarily mean return when the work assignment is over. Though it may seem odd, or even crazy, if an employee and an employer agree that the employee will begin working in another country, that does not necessarily mean that the employer will arrange for, or pay for, the return of the employee to the employee’s home country at the end of the assignment, or when the employment ends. It probably should be implied, or required, but sadly, it is not.

Look Before You Leap!! Get a copy of our 138-Point Master Guide and Checklist for Employees Contemplating Expatriate Assignments. Everything you forgot to ask about, and for, and then some! To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!

2. It’s really a matter of “Look before you leap.” Like so many situations in life, one must think ahead to “What’s next?” and then, again, to “What’s next after that?” It’s like defensive driving of an automobile: you must continually look left, center and right, and continually say to yourself, “Who could possibly hurt me, and how can I avoid that?” It’s the same thing with employers.

You don’t have to drive – or work – defensively, but then again, you don’t have to survive or remain uninjured, either. Though hindsight is always 20-20, I would ALWAYS recommend to an employee not to accept relocation unless that relocation was followed by guaranteed return-relocation.

I’ve written a Newsletter entitled “If You’re Asked to Relocate, Think Ahead to Your Need for Re-Relocation” that covers this topic. If you’d like to read it, simply [click here].

I’ve also written another Newsletter entitled “Expatriate Assignments – The 18 Mandatory Requests.” that covers this topic for those sent to other countries by their employers. To read it, simply [click here].

3. As I often recommend, I suggest your friend contact the Board of Directors of his former employer, and tell them of his plight. This is the path I recommend, and without delay. Though it is not foolproof, there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain. The letter needs to be respectful, detailed and sent in such a way that its receipt cannot be disputed, such as FedEx or UPS. Its envelope should be marked “Personal & Confidential.” 

We offer a Model Letter for people in your friend’s circumstances. It’s entitled “Letter from Expatriate/Relocatee in Untenable Circumstances to CEO and Board of Directors.” If you’re interested in obtaining it for your friend, just [click here].

4. Bottom line, though, is we must always be prepared to rely on (a) self, (b) family, and (c) friends. I don’t at all mean to come across either cold or pessimistic, but bottom line is we must all look to ourselves, our families, and our friends for help in difficult times. Expecting help from an employer, or former employer, in such a circumstance – without having an agreement beforehand regarding return relocation – is just not realistic. An employer is not a friend, and not a family member.

Fortunately for your friend, he has you. And, chances are he also has both family who might help, and other friends like you. I applaud your writing in for your friend, and expect you and others who care for him will “be there” to the extent he needs you at this time of difficulty.

Wynn, thanks for writing in. I hope this has been helpful to you, and to your friend. And I hope by sharing your friend’s plight, you’ll help countless others avoid the same for them.

Best, 
Al Sklover 

P.S.: We also offer a Model Memo requesting 16 Necessary Clarifications and Protections When Considering an Expatriate Assignment that you can adapt for your own use. “What to Say and How to Say It.”™ To get your copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.