By Marjorie CulverYana Komsitsky, and Dan Waldman

Seyfarth Synopsis: As events unfold in Ukraine, employers face uncertainty regarding the impact on business and employees in the Ukraine, Russia, and elsewhere. Concerns include the safety and security of workers in the region, the impact of sanctions, and heightened anxieties among employees, to name a few. This article highlights key considerations for employers as they navigate this continuously developing situation.

Worker safety and security: Many employers have shut down their work sites in affected areas or assisted with the relocation of workers for their safety. Also, the ability to relocate is increasingly limited due to restrictions on flights, congestion at border crossings, and Ukraine’s prohibition on men aged 18-60 leaving the country. One thing is clear—maintaining communication with employees is paramount, as is adapting operations to prioritize safety. The situation is changing rapidly, and so can your employees’ security circumstances and ability to work safely.

  • Reassign work and responsibilities in anticipation of disruption and to avoid placing employees under pressure to deliver or in a situation that limits their ability to quickly adapt to changing security conditions, including cases where employees are serving mandatory military service.
  • Develop backup communication plans with redundancies, manned by someone outside the region.

Paying Russian workers amid banking restrictions: The US and many other countries have taken measures to restrict financial transactions with certain Russian banks. Notably, the US Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Asset Controls will place “payable through account” restrictions on certain Russian banks effective March 26, 2022.

  • Companies with Russian affiliates should evaluate whether these restrictions will impact payments to their Russian affiliate needed to make payroll or to pay vendors that pay and provide benefits to employees.
  • Consider any impact on non-employee workers, such as direct payment to third party agencies, service companies, and independent contractors.

Employee movement: More than half a million individuals have left Ukraine for neighboring and other countries. Though travel is limited in and out of Russia, some movement out of Russia is still expected. The situation is fluid.

  • Continue to evaluate relocation of employees and operations. Although several countries have offered asylum to displaced individuals, in many cases this is subject to limits on work authorization.
  • Be aware that allowing a displaced worker to work remotely will implicate local immigration compliance/work authorization requirements, and employers will need to evaluate a compliant strategy for worker relocation, to include potentially lengthy waiting times for work permits. Some countries may relax their position on right to work requirements for individuals from these countries.

Export controls regulations: The US, some EU countries, and the UK, among others, have imposed new export controls restrictions as part of sanction measures. US export regulations have expanded the scope of restricted technology as it applies to “deemed exports” to certain Russian nationals, and license requirements for these individuals will need review. This is a concern for a company globally, because the US export laws apply to US origin technology wherever it is accessed, even when a worker accessing the technology is not employed in the US.

  • Companies with export control technology must review these restrictions carefully.

Employee well-being: The current geopolitical situation may cause considerable stress and anxiety for workers in any location. This is compounded by baseline stress related to the ongoing pandemic. The goals are to ensure workers are aware of the resources available to them and their responsibilities to each other to reduce tension, be sensitive to different viewpoints, and avoid interpersonal conflict. Employers may want to:

  • Recirculate information on available support such as EAPs, mental health services, and ERGs.
  • Review social media, workplace speech, and corporate communications policies. For instance, employees are sharing information and fundraising links, some of which may be graphic, controversial, and could potentially be a source of cyberattacks.
  • Consider whether to hold information sessions, office hours, or town halls with appropriate subject matter experts or leadership.

Awareness of cyber vulnerabilities: There is an increased risk of cyberattacks at present. In addition to the robust defensive measures, employers should increase awareness and consider additional training and guidance for employees on recognizing potential threats (phishing tactics; what to do with suspicious links, etc.).

Marjorie, Dan, and Yana are part of Seyfarth’s leading International Employment team. The situation in Ukraine is changing rapidly. Our specialist team is ready to assist in this changing landscape.