Legal Translation of Employment Contracts
with Foreign Employees

Let a Legal Translation Service Be a Part of Your Global Strategy

We’ve blogged about the need for legal translation services to make employment separation agreements enforceable. In the United States, one- or two-page offer letters are the most common way to create an employment relationship; and employment contracts in the U.S. are virtually unheard of. Outside of the United States, you need to flip that script. In many jurisdictions around the world detailed employment contracts are not only customary, but mandatory.

If you are an executive at a growth company that is looking to “go global,” or you represent one, then you should be aware of the major differences that exist between employment standards and laws in the United States compared to those in the rest of the world. Indeed, part of going global means understanding the landscape of employment policies in any country in which you seek to hire staff.

Moreover, as you set your sights on expansion into other countries, you will need to make legal translation services a high priority for your business. All Language Alliance, Inc. at 303-470-9555 has decades of experience helping translate employment agreements for foreign employees. Accordingly, making sure that you have professional, reliable translators as you expand globally is of vital importance.

As a short primer to help you get your arms around hiring extraterritorial employees for your growing company, here is a list of helpful factors to keep in mind.

A. Employment Agreements are Almost Always a Must Outside the U.S.

As noted above, short offer letters are not the standard abroad. In fact, employees in foreign countries expect an employment agreement. Many jurisdictions require the agreement in writing. In addition, the agreements should include important terms, such as grounds for termination and probationary periods.

In China, an employer is subject to having to pay double wages if a written employment contract in Simplified Chinese is not provided within one month of an employee’s start date. Under European Union directives, an employer must provide an agreement in writing to an employee within two months of the employee’s start date.

B. Probationary Periods and Termination Provisions in Cross-Border Employment Contracts

The United States is virtually alone in the world in its policy of at-will employment, whereby an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason, absent an employment agreement. Outside the U.S., probationary periods and termination provisions become very important if a company still wants to have control over termination decisions.

Each country has different rules regarding how long a probationary period should be, but companies need to be vigilant on following the probationary period process in case it wants to enforce a termination decision.

C. Think Strategically About How You Want to Handle Employment Contracts

Typically, multi-national companies will prepare employment contracts for foreign employees that comply with the local laws in the employee’s jurisdiction. However, some companies try to have a boilerplate “global” agreement that is tailored to local laws only as necessary.

Whichever you choose, make sure that you “look before you leap.” Decide which approach works best for your organization before embarking on drafting the agreements.

D. Know the Local Laws Regarding Translations for Your Dispersed Workforce

Only a few jurisdictions require that employment contracts be in the local language, even for an employee fluent in the language of the jurisdiction where he or she will be employed. Yet, if an employee requests a translation of the employment agreement in his own language, then the employer must provide one with few exceptions.

If there is any type of language requirement in a foreign country, an employer’s failure to follow those requirements will most likely render the agreement null, void, and therefore unenforceable.

E. Consider the Business Need for a Translation, Even if Not Legally Required

Even if there is no overarching rule requiring local language versions of employment contracts, you may choose to have translations prepared anyway. There are practical and business realities that may make it advantageous to have important documents in foreign offices, and for foreign employees, translated from English to the local languages.

In Spain, for example, an employment agreement need not be in Spanish. However, copies of employment agreements must be filed with the Spanish government’s employment authorities. Accordingly, it is helpful from a practical standpoint to have the English employment agreement translated to Spanish.

As another example, in China a global code of conduct policy needs to go through a collective review by the members of the Chinese workforce in that company. Thus, if a policy is only written in English, it could slow down that collective review, or put the enforceability of the policy in jeopardy, if a Chinese court was called upon to enforce it.

F. In Sum, Have a Legal Translator Assist You In Creating a Global Strategy

When dealing with employees who will live and work abroad, you need to be cognizant of the often vastly different employment laws of the relevant country. Further, you need to consider what documents need to be translated by a professional legal translation service.

A good way to tackle the translation challenge is to determine what documents must be translated; what documents should be translated, but a lack of translation will not run afoul of local laws; and what documents can be left in English. Making that important determination will dictate how you prioritize the documents you create and what type of legal document translation assistance you will require.

All Language Alliance, Inc. has been translating documents for multi-national companies with a dispersed workforce from English to Simplified Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, Korean, Traditional Chinese, including cross-border employment agreements, for decades. We welcome you to learn more about our services by filling out “Translate Documents Now!” form on the right.

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