New Expatriate Request: “Pollution Perq’s”

Eight Popular “Bad Air Benefits”

“Fresh air impoverishes the doctor.”

– Proverb

ACTUAL “CASE HISTORIES”: 2013 seems to have been the year that employees who were given the opportunity, or the direct order, by their employers to relocate to certain cities – primarily in China – began to say, with determination, with concern and quite commonly, “I am concerned about the air and water quality,” and more and more began saying “I just won’t go, especially with my young children.” 

Employers have reported increasing difficulty in attracting candidates to accept positions in certain cities in the Asia-Pacific region that are known for poor air quality. Beijing and Shanghai are the two most difficult cities in the world to attract expatriates to move to, and not coincidentally, have some of the world’s most dangerous air to breathe. 

Major corporations, including Nestle, Panasonic and KPMG, are now offering inducements to accept expatriate assignments in pollution-prone cities. It’s a new kind of employee benefits commonly referred to as “Pollution Perq’s” or “Bad Air Benefits.” 

LESSON TO LEARN: If there is one message this blog puts forth, it is that the employment relationship is highly negotiable. In no context is negotiation so acceptable – and necessary – than it is in the expatriation experience. 

Simply put, if your employer is going to send you thousands of miles away, surely you have to think ahead and make sure it will take care of problems that arise in the process, including among them issues related to (a) immigration, (b) taxation, (c) education for children, (d) visits home, and (e) return home when the expatriate term is completed. Now, that list includes concerns for the harmful effects of polluted air and water. 

Expatriation is an experience that calls for the greatest of forethought, planning and, yes, imagination, as to the possible problems that might arise when you are far away from “home.” 

Recent experiences of expat’s in some of the world’s largest – and most pollution-prone – cities teach us that employers can be convinced that they must provide simple and basic protections from the potential problems that might arise due to extreme air and water pollution in certain cities. Those who face this experience would be wise to be both prudent and persistent in making necessary requests. 

For those contemplating an expatriate assignment, we offer a Model Memo requesting All 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!  

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Here are the “Eight Most Common Pollution Perq’s” you might consider requesting if you are asked to take a work assignment in a city known for its extreme pollution:

1. Leaving the Children at Home – Without a doubt, the most common “bad air benefit” being requested and being provided is an accommodation to permit the Expat employee to leave the children at home to prevent any possibility of harm to growing children. This usually entails (a) leaving the spouse at home, as well as, (b) allowances for more frequent flights home, and family visits to the expat, most commonly on a monthly basis, and (c) addressing the heightened need for visits related to certain “life events” such as births, christenings, confirmations, other religious events, marriages, and funerals. 

2. Shorter Expat Assignments – A second common request related to air and water quality is the shortening of expatriate assignments. While two or three years was most common in the past, we are seeing shorter expatriate assignments of 12 to 18 months being requested and granted. The basic idea: shorter stints will – hopefully – reduce the chances of long-term effects of breathing the air and drinking the water.

3. Air and Water Monitoring and Filtration Systems at home and in the office – As a direct response to concerns about the possible health effects of poor quality air and water, employers are providing expatriates in high-pollution cities in-office and at-home monitoring and filtration systems. While expensive to install, they seem to provide a significant degree of assurance to those asked to serve in such locales. 

Certain houseplants are also known to reduce indoor air pollution, and are an integral part of such filtration arrangements. The most common air-cleansing houseplants include (a) areca palm (best for removing airborne toxins), (b) rubber plant (especially good at removing formaldehyde), (c) spider plant (removes carbon monoxide), (d) dracaena (removes toxic photocopier chemicals), (e) aloe, (f) English ivy, and (g) snake plant (also known as “Mother-in-Law’s Tongue.”) 

4. Budgeting for Protective Face Masks – It is commonplace, in fact now the norm, to see people walking around major cities these days wearing face masks to prevent the inhalation of particulate pollution, the tiny particles of “bad dust” that so often clog the air and lungs. The most effective and popular masks meet the so-called “N95” standard, which also tend to be fairly expensive if used on a daily basis.

5. Indoor Exercise Equipment – While exercising even indoors on “bad air days” can be dangerous, indoors that are well-filtered are much safer places to get your daily exercise than is the “morning walk in the park” so many people are used to. In fact, rental apartment buildings in major Asian cities are rapidly incorporating such facilities into their apartment offerings to meet the growing need.     

6. Smart Phone Apps for Air Pollution Forecasts – There are now many smartphone apps that provide (a) pollution forecasts, (b) ideas for adjusting lifestyle to accommodate the worst of days, and (c) warnings to take special precautions when dangerous levels of pollution are imminent. Employers are providing these apps as part of expat packages to the most polluted cities. 

7. Ready Access to Pulmonary and Related Medical Personnel – Over the last decade, a specialty field of medicine called “travel medicine” has developed to address the special health-related needs of travelers, from ensuring that all necessary inoculations are provided on a timely basis to emergency evacuation services during medical emergencies. As part of “pollution perq” packages, employers are providing pre-arranged, regular access to pulmonary, allergists, and even toxicology doctors, and related services, to both monitor and treat the signs and symptoms of air and water pollution.   

8. “Hazard Pay” – Lastly, but surely not least, just as military personnel in war-torn countries are awarded “hazardous duty pay,” so too are many employers paying expats in polluted areas additional compensation as an inducement to relocate and remain in expatriate positions in areas of high air and water pollution. While money is no cure to ill health, it does, as they say, “calm the nerves.” 

Like all employment-related compensation and benefits, expatriate packages are highly negotiable. You should never fear making reasonable requests to prevent, address and compensate you for difficulties and potential damages related to your position. 

P.S.: Stuck Far Away and Under Trying Circumstances? We offer a Model Letter to Senior Management and Board of Directors regarding Untenable Expat Circumstances that you can adapt for your own situation. “What to Say and How to Say It.”™ To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!

SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Negotiation and navigation of work and career issues requires that you think “out of the box,” and build value and avoid risks at every point in your career. We strive to help you understand what is commonly before you – traps and pitfalls, included – and to avoid the bumps in the road. Knowing how to respond to a request that you become an expatriate, especially to a high-pollution area, may be an important part of that knowledge and understanding you need.         

Always be proactive. Always be creative. Always be persistent. Always be vigilant. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “rewards” and eliminate or reduce employment “risks.” That’s what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about. 

*A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.     

Please Note: This Email Newsletter is not legal advice, but only an effort to provide generalized information about important topics related to employment and the law. Legal advice can only be rendered after formal retention of counsel, and must take into account the facts and circumstances of a particular case. Those in need of legal advice, counsel or representation should retain competent legal counsel licensed to practice law in their locale. 

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