“Stranded and abandoned on overseas assignment. What to do?”

Question: Hi, Alan. After 31+ years with a Fortune 500 company as a Vice President, I have just received notice of my job elimination. The severance package offered is one year. However, I have spent the last 2-1/2 years living overseas in Asia, during which time I received my formal Vice President title, about one year ago. At that time I received a letter stating that the “intent” of my assignment was to be for four years.

I moved my family to Asia in June, 2010 at the company’s expense. Six months later, we moved within our Asian country for which the company signed a 14-month apartment lease. The company is now asking us to leave with 12 months left to go on that lease.

What becomes of our international health insurance? Who pays the remainder of the apartment lease? My wife just got a job here in Asia, and our move will entail her losing it. Also, there is disruption in my child’s schooling. How about tax implications for both countries?

I know I need to seek legal help in these matters, but before throwing out that cash, I wanted some general advice. 

Marty
Fort Worth, Texas and Asia

Answer: Dear Marty: 

Expatriation – that is, moving to another country for your employer – is not a step to be taken lightly. While most people who are asked to relocate overseas view it as an opportunity, and an adventure, if not carefully “navigated and negotiated,” it can become the fiasco of a lifetime.

In an effort to prevent just such problems, I wrote a newsletter entitled “Expatriate Assignments – The 18 Mandatory Requests.” If you’d like to review it [click here].

a. First: Ask to review your employer’s Expatriation/Relocation Policies. Before presuming you have a problem, first find out what, if anything, your employer’s written policies on this subject may entitle you to. Last year I reviewed the Expatriation/Relocation policies of a Hong Kong bank. The list ran almost 35 pages, and covered every subject you can imagine. Last week I reviewed the policies of a European retailer; they had no written policies on the subject. Your employer’s written policies on expatriation/relocation, if any, are the place to start. It’s just possible you have no problem, that is, that all your concerns will be addressed by your employer without a problem. 

b. Second: Make an email request to HR that these items be addressed by your employer. If such written policies exist, then make an email request to Human Resources that they abide by, and honor, their policies. If such written policies do not exist, then make an email request to Human Resources that they do (i) the right thing, (ii) the responsible thing, and (iii) what they would want done for them if they were “in your shoes.”  
   
c. Third: If necessary, address a formal letter to the CEO and Board – sent by email – seeking “basic corporate responsibility.” Again, if necessary, elevate your “request” into an “urgent request” to those who run the company. Not only will they not want the company to be embarrassed for such poor treatment of employees, but more importantly, they will not want to be personally embarrassed because they were so insensitive.

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!

d. Fourth: Understand that “words of intention” are not binding. One thing to bear in mind: words of intention may be morally persuasive, but they are not legally binding. Thus, while it is 100% reasonable to ask that the company stand by what it told you were its intentions, that has no legal strength. Promises are enforceable; intentions are not. 

If you would like to know more about the danger of “words of intention,” you may read my newsletter on that very subject if you [click here].

e. Finally, if any issues remain unresolved, then seek legal assistance. My suggestion is that you should try steps a, b and c, above, as soon as possible, but do so before you spend money on legal fees. If your problems can be reduced before hiring an attorney, you will save a lot of legal fees. If your problems can be entirely eliminated without the need for an attorney, even better.

I truly do hope that your concerns and problems are resolved by your employer with the responsibility and fairness you and your family deserve.

Thanks for writing in. If you find this helpful, please consider emailing it to your colleagues overseas, and recommend they learn “the easy way.”

My best to you,
Al Sklover

P.S.: If you would like to speak with me directly about this or other subjects, I am available for 30-minute, 60-minute, or 120-minute telephone consultations, just [click here.]

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.