Air Pollution

Air Pollution: How Mobility Leaders are Addressing within their Mobility Programs

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With Beijing issuing their first red pollution alert in December 2015 which brought the capital city to a near standstill and employees cutting their international assignments to New Delhi short for the sake of their children’s health – air quality has become a serious topic for mobility leaders.

Top assignment destinations such as China and India have poor air quality from pollutants such as vehicle emissions, industry, construction and residential fuel burning – among other things.  Mobility leaders are faced with addressing these challenges to continue to entice and support employees on international assignment, while remaining cost conscious and ensuring a high level of employee satisfaction.  And in order to do this, they must stay at the forefront of these environmental issues and implement solutions that will ensure the success of their program.

While there is variation around how companies are responding in locations with high levels of air pollution, many are taking the approach to educate, empower, and assist their employees in understanding the health risks and are offering solutions to minimize their risk.

Here we will take a closer look at what some mobility leaders are doing to address employee concerns in locations with poor air pollution.

Initial education

It all starts with informing the employee about the air quality in the host location prior to assignment acceptance.  The employee should be educated about topics such as the Air Quality Index, (including PM2.5, NO2, Respirable Particle Matter levels, and other markers) and the potential for adverse health effects.  At the same time, mobility leaders should clearly communicate regarding what steps the company is taking to address these issues and ways the employee can minimize risk.  Once educated, employees can make fully informed decisions about assignment acceptance.

Assessing respiratory issues prior to physically relocating

A full health evaluation/physical examination by a medical professional is strongly recommended before the employee physically relocates to the host location.  The employee’s accompanying family members should undergo a thorough health evaluation as well.

The examination should include any history of asthma, bronchitis, heavy smoking, or other respiratory issues. Even if these health conditions are not current but past issues, they should still be noted because increased pollution levels often cause recurrence. For those with considerable health concerns, after discussion with the employee, the company may ultimately decide not to go ahead with the relocation or determine the family should not accompany the employee on assignment.

Face Masks

The company should also provide employees with adequate face masks.  For example, one scientific equipment company provides employees in China N95 face masks to filter out the PM2.5 particles.  The masks are to be worn when the employee commutes to work to reduce respiratory irritation when employees are most vulnerable. Often companies provide face masks for all local employees in a particular location; expatriates should be covered under any applicable practices for local employees.

Air purifiers in the workplace and the home

Protecting employees while they are at work should be a given. This may mean installing air purifiers in the workplace, and offering discounts on home installation of air purification systems as some large technology companies are currently doing in New Delhi. While the air quality inside of buildings will no doubt be better than outside, successful indoor monitoring and filtering is essential.

Relocation Allowance

Companies should consider including assistance for air purifiers, face masks, and other small appliances specifically related to air quality control under the Relocation Allowance.  Systems should be high-efficiency particulate arresting (HEPA) specified.

Furniture and/or Appliance Allowance

Companies can also allow employees to purchase air filtration system under the Furniture and / or Appliance Allowance provision.  It will be important to establish guidelines on what is considered a valid air filtration system; to be eligible for reimbursement, all systems should to be HEPA specified.

Hardship Allowance

If a Hardship Allowance is currently in policy, the company should consult with their outside data provider to understand how air pollution and other environmental issues are factored in for specific countries.  This information should then be shared with the employee to ensure they know they are being monetarily compensated for the hardship.   If a company’s policy doesn’t include this provision currently and they anticipate further volume into these locations, it is worth further investigation.

R&R Trips

If outside data provider tables support the need, the company should consider providing Rest and Relaxation Trips (R&R) trips.  Allowing employees to leave the host location for a period of 5-7 days annually will assist them in getting a break from the environment and access to clean air.  These R&R trips should be to a location within a reasonable distance from the host location which does not have similar environmental issues.

Flexible working conditions

Air quality in polluted cities is variable, depending on the weather. For days when air quality is particularly poor, implement a policy where employees are permitted (or even encouraged, or mandated) to work from home.

In Conclusion

Mobility leaders should review their current policy, financial goals, business needs and employee satisfaction goals to determine the level of assistance to provide their employees assigned to locations with poor air quality.  At a minimum, all employees should be educated on the air pollution, air quality and health risks prior to physically relocating.   In addition, ongoing employee monitoring will also help yield higher acceptance and satisfaction rates in markets where pollution is increasingly an issue.

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