Employers need a crisis management plan to tackle Ebola outbreak

The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa is a sobering reminder to employers of the need to have a crisis management plan in place for expatriate employees working in affected areas.


The latest figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO), at the time of writing, put the current death toll at 4,900. The outbreak also continues to hit health workers. So far, 443 healthcare workers have been infected with Ebola, of which 244 have died.

Only Nigeria and Senegal have been declared to be ‘Ebola-free’.

According to consultancy ECA International’s Pandemic spot survey, published in August, 50% of organisations surveyed have no policy in place for dealing with a pandemic such as Ebola.

Travel restrictions

Where employers have put policies in place, the two most common measures are the provision of a safe working environment, and a continuity plan should people no longer be able to travel to work.

Andrew Shaw, managing director at ECA International, says: “Recently, we have heard of [employer] clients providing information sessions, making assignments unaccompanied or asking expats to stay onsite, away from their families.”

Cross-border travel inevitably increases the potential of Ebola spreading. Some organisations have placed travel restrictions on employees, restricting movement in and out of affected regions.

Clayton Shoup, workers’ compensation line business director at Zurich, says: “Employers should seriously consider postponing any business-related travel to the areas of Western Africa where the Ebola outbreak is occurring. Employees or visitors who have travelled to West Africa should monitor themselves for symptoms for 21 days.

“Information regarding the threat of Ebola and appropriate actions to be taken should be communicated to all staff.”

The Foreign Office has also advised against all but essential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone because of the outbreak of the Ebola virus.

Policy needs for expats and locals

Dr Isabelle Nuttall, director at WHO, says: “It will take months before the Ebola outbreak is stopped. In the meantime, we need to make sure it doesn’t spread in to other countries.”

Over the last 10 years, various pandemics have occurred in locations around the globe. The current Ebola outbreak again raises the issue of international HR’s role in crisis planning.

A policy for crisis planning must also take into account the needs of expatriate and local employees.

Considerations include how to deal with the expat’s family, knowing who to contact and how to reach people based outside of their home country, as well as defining how much more care, if any, is reasonable to give expatriates than to locally employed staff.

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ECA’s Shaw says: “Organisations need to think through when, or indeed whether, they will treat their expatriates differently from locally employed staff in different kinds of scenarios.

Global mobility teams need to ensure that these are also addressed within any crisis policy so that everyone is prepared and responsibilities are clear.”