Employers everywhere are implementing “back to the office” policies to protect workforce health and well-being and reassure employees they will be safe when returning to work. Most of this effort focuses on getting employees back to the offices they left a few months ago. But what about the people you need to relocate?
Talent mobility isn’t always the top priority for many HR and business leaders. However, getting their relocation strategy back on track will be essential for organizations that require critical talent to be on-site in the right locations.
When business conditions are anything but normal, how can you make sure your relocation strategy keeps your people safe and supported while being effective and efficient?
1. Reexamine Your Relocation Supply Chain
Employers have a responsibility for the safety and well-being of employees at all times but especially during a global pandemic. There have always been relocation issues related to “duty of care.” However, this term takes on a completely different meaning today.
Under normal circumstances, relocation is a low-risk activity. That’s not true during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are using a relocation management company, you need to know about the health and safety practices it and its service providers follow throughout the relocation process.
How is a new home or temporary housing sanitized? Do household goods movers use masks and gloves? Are additional services offered to ensure the well-being of the relocating employee and family? Ask questions, and probe for the details.
2. Consider New Processes to Protect Employees
When an employee relocates, he or she has direct contact with many different people and businesses throughout the process. Employee relocation supplier networks are adapting and innovating in an effort to keep everyone safe. Some relocation activities may take longer to complete or require a different process, but they can be done.
Many of these changes build social distancing into specific services. For example, one practice that has proved valuable over the past few weeks is having the transferring family either off-site or settled in a specific room of the home while household goods movers are present to avoid unnecessary contact.
If you are working with a relocation company, the focus should be on minimizing personal exposure when providing basic services. Ask for details about how the company does it. Destination services, rental assistance, spousal support, and language training are now being offered virtually.
However, in situations when an assignee is meeting face-to-face with a destination provider, guidelines include wearing a mask and maintaining distance, as well as using separate forms of transportation to meet at various appointments. Some suppliers are now offering virtual destination services as a new and permanent option.
3. Understand How Global Changes Impact Relocation
Changes in immigration requirements and eligibility are occurring at a fast pace today. Many international immigration authorities are updating regulations and increasing entry restrictions. It’s important to stay on top of current updates that could affect your employees through your internal legal team, your third-party consultants, or your relocation provider.
Importantly, a number of these changes are resulting in tax consequences that could lead to ugly surprises. Some of these result from business travelers or short-term assignees being forced to shelter for extended periods in a foreign country.
For U.S. citizens and residents, less obvious impacts may include the ability to treat disaster relief payments as nontaxable income or U.S. domestic transferees not receiving a stimulus payment because a prior-year relocation inflated their 2019 income.
4. Reevaluate Lump-Sum Relocation Policies
When the U.S. tax law changed in 2018, many employers opted to provide lump-sum relocation payments to employees in lieu of using a relocation company to help manage the process. As a result, many employers became less involved in their employees’ relocations.
For an employer, this may be an efficient solution in normal times, but you should carefully reevaluate whether it’s the best solution under pandemic conditions. Frankly, many employers want to know exactly what is going on with an employee’s relocation and make sure that safe practices are being exercised. If the employee is managing his or her own move, this is impossible.
During the pandemic, employees are experiencing complex and unprecedented situations in which solutions are not always clear. Providing professional guidance and using vetted suppliers can ensure that the employer is meeting its “duty of care” responsibilities and that the employee will complete the move safely.
Extra Support Can Reduce Risk
This may not be the ideal time for relocation, but some moves are unavoidable. Overall, employee relocations during this pandemic and in the post-pandemic economy will require more employer involvement and more support from your relocation service suppliers than under normal conditions.
Taking a flexible approach and tapping into the expertise of your relocation services providers can help you make the best decisions to reduce risk for your business and your employees while safeguarding everyone’s health and well-being.
Dave Marron is CEO at NuCompass Mobility. He is a licensed California real estate broker who cofounded two companies before joining NuCompass, and he previously worked in the banking industry.