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Why digital nomads can be a headache for employers

View profile for Nilam Dave
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The easing of overseas travel restrictions is posing an unexpected headache for employers, who need to be on the look-out for potential digital nomads in their home-working workforce.

The opportunity to be wholly mobile and work from anywhere, when an internet connection is the only tether to the workplace, means many may be considering an extended trip overseas.  And as requests may not be made openly, organisations need to decide where they stand on the idea, identify the pitfalls, and get a policy communicated to staff, so there’s no confusion. 

That’s because working overseas could give rise to a range of issues for an employer, whether the plans are to make a long-term visit to Europe, or one of the countries which have introduced new visa schemes for extended visits, such as the Cayman Islands and Barbados in the Caribbean or Dubai in the Middle East.  

Some of the problems which may impact on employers range from working visa requirements, breach of insurance terms, invalidation of health cover, through to data protection violations.  It may also cause internal discontent if not tackled, for example if some workers are required to attend the workplace and so are unable to access the same options as their home-working colleagues.

Key questions that need to be answered include:

  • Can the employee legally work in the host country?  Following Brexit, individuals may need relevant immigration permissions from the host country.
  • Will the employee become subject to local laws and employment protections? 
  • Can a safe working environment be maintained? As well as responsibility under UK law, employers may find local health and safety requirements apply, such as providing specific equipment.
  • Will there be any tax and national insurance implications for the individual?  Even when UK based PAYE / NI is being deducted, local taxes could arise in the host country. 
  • Could it create a taxable presence for the employer in the host country, resulting in corporate taxes being due on locally generated profits?  This will depend on local rules, and the individual’s role.  
  • Is compliance an issue under data protection laws, for both the UK and the host country?  Remote working from a different geographic location could impact on personal data processing, or the host country may have different requirements.

The other general consideration for overseas travel is whether employers are going to require staff to avoid countries with high levels of Covid-19 which may require self-isolation or hotel quarantine on return, which could impact on their availability to fulfil their role.   

If there is nothing to hold someone at home, such as family commitments, the temptation may be to take a longer trip and work remotely, in a place where they can enjoy the sun or a change of scenery, rather than viewing overseas travel purely as a holiday break. 

It’s worth getting advice on all the potential issues before deciding whether to let staff turn themselves into digital nomads, and it’s important to have a clear policy for all overseas travel while the pandemic continues around the world, for however long, and get the message out to all staff so they are clear about their position.  

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.