Safety reviews follow unrest

Violent unrest in Hong Kong is the latest geopolitical threat prompting Canadian companies to review their safety measures for overseas employees, security experts say.

"It's forced companies to kind of look at their policies and procedures around travelling to higher risk countries where there may be instability," says Patrick Doyle, American Express Global Business Travel's Canadian general manager.

Hong Kong has seen large scale demonstrations since June after the government introduced a bill that would allow its citizens to be extradited to China if they are arrested.

The Canadian government urged travellers, including 300,000 Canadians living in Hong Kong, to exercise "a high degree of caution" in its travel advisory by pointing out that acts of violence have resulted in serious injuries as security forces clash with demonstrators.

The disruptions forced employers to examine who should travel, when they should go and even consider if travel is required at all, said Doyle, whose firm helps companies mitigate risks by developing travel procedures, briefing employees on travel risks and assisting them once an event unfolds.

Some Canadian firms have suspended or reduced corporate travel to Hong Kong in reaction to the unrest just like they did in the aftermath of the detentions late last year by China of a Canadian entrepreneur and a former diplomat, said Paul Doucet, security director for Canada at International SOS, a travel security firm.

Companies are seeking more help to protect their employees in part because of their legal responsibilities.

Most employers are familiar and compliant with local health and safety standards and their legal duty of care. But many are less familiar with their legal liabilities when an employee is travelling abroad, said a report on Canada's mobile workforce.

"An employer has a legal obligation to take all precautions, reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of the worker," said Lisa Bolton, an employment and labour lawyer with Sherrard Kizzy LLP, who co-authored the 2016 paper with the International SOS Foundation.

Bolton said employers are required under Canadian and provincial labour laws to take into account risks and hazards and to ensure there's training and education to enable employees to work safely.

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