Author: Dave Richter
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, 2022, nearly 2 million people have fled Ukraine for neighboring countries, including Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. If the conflict continues, numbers are expected to rise as high as 3 million.
As this humanitarian crisis has evolved, employer organizations have been trying to navigate how they can best support their most important assets, their people.
To help answer the question "What should we do now?" Gallagher's crisis management expert Dave Richter has put together a series of questions and resources to aid organizations during this tumultuous time.
Q. What should organizations be doing right now to ensure their duty of care obligations are being fulfilled?
A: First and foremost, organizations should maintain communications, keeping those lines open, setting up hotlines and connecting with those who are in need of a lifeline. For example, Workplace Options, an employee assistance provider, has implemented 72 hotlines, working to support over 75,000 individuals since the end of February.
Organizations with expatriates or local national employees in Ukraine who are willing and able to relocate should make all efforts to get those employees somewhere safe. As noted by the European Commission, "All European Union (EU) countries bordering Ukraine are allowing entry to all people fleeing war in Ukraine on humanitarian grounds regardless of whether or not you have a biometric passport."
In some situations, assistance Providers recommend that certain groups of individuals shelter in place, as attempting to evacuate or even relocate internally within Ukraine poses a threat given the militarized situation in certain parts of Ukraine. In these cases, employees should be prepared to seek shelter for an extended period.
For those who have left, organizations should work to support employees and their dependents in their new environments. This support means offering financial assistance, keeping open lines of communication and updating their impacted employees about what is happening. The physical, financial and emotional wellness of all employees should be the main concern of organizations right now.
For more support, see Workplace Options' Ukraine crisis support information.
Q: What difficulties are organizations running into as they try to relocate employees?
A: The first priority should be to keep their employees safe. Ukraine has banned men from the ages of 18 to 60 from leaving the country because they are eligible for military conscription. This ban has required employers with impacted employees to reevaluate their plans for evacuation and shift to evacuating women and children from Ukraine. As one could imagine, leaving family members in the midst of a warzone takes an emotional toll and requires support from organizations and communities.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, some employees are choosing to remain in Ukraine to protect their homeland. This decision poses numerous threats to their wellbeing, safety and security.
Regardless, organizations working to evacuate their people from Ukraine must seek solutions for financial support, proper health insurance, housing and more. These immediate needs are not easy to accommodate, especially considering geographical and communication barriers. Many organizations are trying to facilitate solutions from the other side of the world, which is a challenge when communication lines are not always available. In situations where communicating directly with each employee in Ukraine is not feasible, I recommend having one local person designated to receive communications to then relay to the locals in Ukraine.
For more, see the European Commission's information for people fleeing Ukraine.
Q: What resources are available to organizations during this crisis?
A: Three main types of resources are available to organizations:
Health insurance. Many employees now need new insurance plans and are looking for the proper solutions. Gallagher has been able to source insurance for transplanted and refugee employees, and for extended family members who are not traditionally benefit eligible, such as grandparents, adult siblings, and nannies.
Emotional support. Companies such as International SOS have been providing support to organizations with employees attempting to either leave Ukraine or relocate to safer parts of the country through International Employee Assistance Programs (IEAPs). The IEAPs offer helplines and counseling for those struggling with moving or leaving their home country and family. Counseling is also available for employees around the world as they worry for the safety of their coworkers. This crisis is affecting the world at large and taking a toll on the entire population.
Medical and security assistance. Companies such as International SOS had dedicated resources on the ground in advance of the Russian invasion and worked to identify providers that could help with moving employees and family members. These services extend to helping individuals after they leave Ukraine, providing assistance with transportation services and other assistance.
For more resources, see International SOS's information about supporting employees in Ukraine.
Q: The EU recently issued the Temporary Protection Directive. Who does it protect and how does it work?
A: Due to the influx of refugees from Ukraine to surrounding nations such as Poland, Romania and Moldova, the EU has activated the Temporary Protection Directive. The Directive is used to protect Ukrainian citizens who lived in Ukraine prior to February 24, 2022; those who have a residence permit in Ukraine due to their status as a refugee or person in need of subsidiary protection; and family members of those who fall into the previously mentioned categories.
This protection gives those who relocated to other countries access to work, housing, medical care, education and more in their new country, without the need for immigration papers. This initiative will help refugees adapt to life in their new countries and find a sense of normalcy. The goal is that by the 91st day in their new countries, the refugees will be on local payroll, paid as a local employee and taxed as a local resident.
To make the plan more seamless, many organizations are looking to move their refugees to countries where they already have existing operations. That way, refugees can transfer locations rather than look for new work. This directive will protect refugees until March 1, 2023 and will then be re-evaluated based on how the situation evolves.
For more information, see theEuropean Commission's information about temporary protection.
Q: What are the next steps for organizations?
A: Organizations should look to implement the following steps:
- Maintain open lines of communication between all employees — offer a lifeline and support.
- Partner with an IEAP, if that has not been done already. IEAPs can provide crisis management in these situations.
- Evacuate as many employees as possible from Ukraine or relocate them to a safe and secure location.
- Identify countries with existing company operations and look for opportunities to move employees to those locations.
- Help refugees adapt to their new country, making sure they have access to healthcare, money, bank accounts, work and the like.
- Offer emotional support for employees, co-workers and family near and far from Ukraine.
- Stay up to date on current events and communicate any updates within the organization.
The sources listed throughout this post offer insight into the current crisis and provide a number of resources for clients and non-clients. Gallagher will continue to update the international benefits community as more information becomes available.
For more information and updates, check out the resources below: