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Education Policy: Special Education Needs – When Employees' Private & Professional Lives Collide

Education Policy Observations and Advice:

When the Employee’s Private and Professional Lives Collide

Part Three in a Series by Timothy Dwyer, President, Bennett International

Even though much about Human Resources has changed over the three+ decades of my career in that industry, one thing has remained constant: HR professionals are regularly privy to much more personal information about our colleagues than anyone else in the organization. In the US, dates of birth, salaries, work histories, performance issues, substance abuse problems, even divorces can be part of an employee’s file. HR folks learn early in their careers that trust and discretion are essential professional attributes, and when it comes to confidentiality even the smallest transgression can be a career-ending move.

But no work-related experience will require the employer to delve more deeply into an employee’s private life than a relocation. Virtually every aspect of an employee’s life is affected by a relocation: does the employee have aged, dependent parents? That will influence her willingness to relocate. Did the employee overpay for his house, or is he currently “underwater” with his mortgage? That will impact his willingness to sell when he moves. Was the employee or her spouse born in another country? That may complicate visa and immigration processing.

But an employee who is the parent of a child with special education needs presents by far the most sensitive challenges and will stop the relocation in its tracks if not supported appropriately. Normally, an employer would have no reason to know that an employee has a special needs child. But to find the right schooling in the destination location, the employer (or the employer’s designated agents) will require full details regarding the child’s needs. Many families are reluctant to share medical and academic information about their children, especially to their employer.

The fact that so much of corporate relocation is currently outsourced—to RMCs, immigration law firms, DSPs, education consultants, etc.—makes this both a challenge and an opportunity.

It is a challenge because an outsourced model means more information flowing among more players, each with its own teams, processes, and systems. Unless an outsourced system is carefully designed, one can find dozens of people copied on each email, with those emails then being forwarded on to still more people. Everyone in the process feels like he or she needs to know what is going on; for sensitive, personal information, this is a scenario fraught with risk.

But outsourcing is also an opportunity. By outsourcing the handling of special education needs to a trusted and qualified education advisor, the employer can take a big step back and avoid getting involved in the personal details of the employee and his children. A well-designed and GDPR-compliant communications system would have the employer and the other outsourced vendors receive information about the child only on a need-to-know basis. Specific parameters are established so that the service provider knows when to go back to the employer with updates or with specific requests.

Key to all of this is the understanding that information about a special needs child is about as sensitive as data can get, so best practices in data security and privacy are essential. It is therefore surprising to see in Bennett’s recent policy survey that only 40% of employers engage education specialists to support a relocating employee with a special needs child. If ever there were an area for HR to avoid risk-taking, it would be in such complex and fraught situations.

Timothy Dwyer, President


Over the years, Bennett International Education Consultancy has worked with hundreds of corporations across the globe, many of them Fortune 500 companies, providing domestic and international school advisement & placement services - preschool through university - to the dependents of relocating employees. In addition to education placement, our team provides customized consulting for corporations with a range of education issues: education policy writing & benchmarking, tuition studies, group move advisement & planning, and remote education solutions.


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