Risk Management: Managing Risk – International Staff

Risk Management

by Edward A. Schirick, C.P.C.U., C.I.C., C.R.M.

The benefit of international staff and cultural exchange is well established in U.S. summer camps. These young men and women bring an adventuresome spirit, experience, and diversity to camp, which afford valuable learning opportunities for the visitor as well as the hosts. Invariably opportunities also include risks, which continue to evolve and change.

Driving Privileges

Can international staff drive legally in the United States? The answer has historically been yes. Establishing criteria for and issuing driver licenses to individuals in the U.S. has been the responsibility of the various states. Concerns about the security and integrity of this process were raised following the September 11th attacks.

The circumstances under which international visitors will be allowed driving privileges in the future appears to depend upon the interpretation and implementation of a controversial Federal law known as the Real ID Act of 2005.

At the present time, international visitors are permitted to drive if they have a valid license from their home country. In most cases, state regulatory agencies recommend international visitors secure an International Driving Permit (IDP) from the authority in their home country regulating driver licenses. The IDP is commonly referred to as an International Driver License, but this is a misnomer. It is not a driver license at all, but simply a translation of their home country's driver license into the languages of the United Nations.

If the language of their home country is English this is a moot point, but otherwise securing an IDP is an important practice. Imagine an international staff member with a vehicle full of campers being stopped, detained, and/or ticketed because the police couldn't read the language on their driver license. If your practice does not include requiring international staff to have an IDP, we recommend implementing that practice.

The impact of the Real ID Act of 2005 has been delayed. It was targeted for implementation in 2008, but provisions of the law allowed postponement for valid reasons at the state level. The Act mandated certain practices and services, but didn't grant any Federal funds for implementation. Besides delayed implementation, several states are flatly opposed to the implementation of the Act, so the future of the Act is unclear in certain states until the political issues are resolved. In the meantime, other states are implementing the law and have set dates to accomplish goals established by the Act. These implementation plans may impact the driver license requirements and driving privileges for international staff in certain states in 2009. We recommend investigating the potential impacts in your state as soon as possible.

Driving Records

Insurance companies have always been, and continue to be, concerned about international staff with driving responsibilities at camp. While underwriting criteria vary among insurers, one common thread exists: the need for international staff with driving duties to bring a copy of their driving history from their home country in English.

In some cases, this driving history can be obtained from the same agency or authority that issues the IDP. In other cases, accidents and other driving or traffic infractions may already be a part of their driver licenses. At that point, the IDP would be all that is required. If your international staff have driving duties at camp, make obtaining their driving histories a part of their documentation requirements for 2009.

In addition, secure the cooperation of the international staffing agencies by sharing with them the need and urgency of this insurance underwriting requirement. Once you have your copy of the driving history, it should be sent to your insurance broker who will send them on to your insurer for review.

You can expect underwriters to take a tougher approach on international staff driving privileges at camp without this documentation.

Other Options

There may be some other options that you can use to qualify international staff with your insurers if they can't provide, or fail to bring, the required documents. These include precamp driver training programs, driving tests, and in-service training and monitoring programs. Don't assume the insurance company will be agreeable.

Check with your broker or insurer first while you still have time to secure the needed documentation for international staff if the insurance company insists upon it. At the same time, find out what resources your insurer has available to help with all driver training challenges.

Background Checks

Resources to check backgrounds of international staff are not as readily available in the rest of the world as they are here in the U.S. Nonetheless, U.S. insurance companies providing liability insurance for sexual abuse and molestation are quite concerned that appropriate background check procedures are in place, and that checks are being conducted on the international staff working at your camp.

Underwriters expect camp directors to verify that background check procedures have been properly performed by the agency making arrangements for the staff person. Documented proof in writing that these checks have been performed is also advisable. It is further recommended that this documentation be kept permanently in the staff person's employment file.

No Perfect Solution

Background checks are not a perfect solution and no one should relax, or forego other risk management procedures and practices designed to monitor and manage the risk of molestation and abuse based upon a “clean” background check. Vigilance is required at all times with all staff, volunteers, and other persons who work with or come into contact with campers.

Health Issues and Insurance

Each international staff member has some limited accident medical and sickness medical insurance available to him/her from the sponsor mandated under the J-1 Visa program. Generally, the coverage is minimal and often carries a deductible, which can be burdensome if the staff member has an unhealthy summer. Check with the organization sponsoring your international staff members to ensure you are aware of the parameters of their accident and sickness health insurance.

Is international staff eligible for workers' compensation insurance if they are injured while working at camp? The answer to this question depends upon the workers' compensation law where your camp is located and where the injury occurs. Generally, in my opinion the answer is yes, but there are some exceptions. Chances are good there will be confusion over coverage at the time the claim is presented. We recommend getting this question of coverage clarified before the need arises by asking your insurance broker to discuss the situation with your workers' compensation insurer.

If there is coverage, it usually ends when the staff members return to their home countries. This creates a bit of a problem depending upon the nature of their injury and the need for rehabilitation or further care when they return home. Once home, international staff members will have to depend on local resources for any continuing care and pay for those services themselves.

If an international staff member is injured on the job, but the workers' compensation claim is denied for a valid reason, their accident and sickness medical insurance provided by the J-1 sponsor will most likely respond.

While all participants are screened medically and provide a health history, directors, camp nurses, and other medical resources are advised to be prepared for the unexpected. This thought followed the recollection of a situation involving an international staff member who became sick with an illness that initially baffled the camp medical staff. It turned out the illness was malaria!

Uncertainty Ahead

Will the Real ID Act of 2005 be implemented as originally passed? What impact will this law have on the ability of international staff to drive camp vehicles in the future?

Can you secure the type of documentation the insurance companies are seeking about driving history and background checks? If the documentation is not available should you hire the staff person anyway? What are the implications for your camp business if you choose to overlook these requirements?

Health insurance and evolving health risks are a growing concern. Are the limits of accident and sickness insurance provided for international staff adequate considering the costs of health care today? Will your state's workers' compensation law allow coverage for injuries to noncitizens?

Lots of questions remain; however, it seems clear some of the risks associated with employing international staff are evolving and changing. Will your camp be ready to manage the changes ahead?

Edward A. Schirick, C.P.C.U., C.I.C., C.R.M., is president of Schirick and Associates Insurance Brokers in Rock Hill, New York, where he specializes in providing risk management advice and in arranging insurance coverage for camps. Schirick is a chartered property casualty underwriter and a certified insurance counselor. He can be reached at 845-794-3113.

Originally published in the 2008 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.