Legal Translation of Global Code of
Business Conduct and Ethics

How to Translate a Global Code of Conduct, and Should It Be Done?

We’ve blogged about the importance of legal translations of employee handbooks. Now that we are heading toward a global economy, there is little question that globalization is the next step in our planet’s evolution. That fact is borne out in the ever-increasing number of multinational companies operating throughout the globe.

When it comes to employee-employer relations, however, a company with a growing multinational presence has a number of difficulties to face. In the United States, employees are used to an “employment-at-will” environment, and employers typically provide their employees with a comprehensive employee handbook that lays out all of the policies, procedures, rules, and regulations with regard to employee life at the company, but that handbook is expressly not an employment contract. That is typically not the case in other countries.

Therefore, legal professionals, in-house attorneys, and Human Resources professionals who work for, or represent, multinational corporations, are presented with a very important employment law question: Should we replicate the U.S.-style employee handbook overseas?

It may sound like a no-brainer that you want all employees in your organization to be treated in the same manner. Therefore, all employees should abide by the same employee handbook regardless of country. However, it is not that simple. Many roadblocks, as we discuss below, can make imposing a U.S.-style employee handbook in other countries impossible.

That said, an employee code of conduct and code of ethics might be easily transferable to a multinational company’s offices in other countries. We will discuss why that might be the case, and how legal translators can make a global code of conduct that much easier.

Is A Global Employee Handbook Possible? Not Really

If we are talking about a U.S.-style handbook that provides all of the terms and conditions of employment, yet also expressly indicates that the handbook is not an employment contract (because U.S. employees are “at-will” employees), then a global employee handbook is impossible. The reason for that is threefold.

Regulations Differ Between the U.S. and Other Countries: Compared to other countries, the U.S. is the “wild west” with regard to employee rights. While “employment-at-will” is the name of the game in the U.S., other countries favor an “indefinite employment” arrangement.

Understanding that the bargaining power between employer and employee is out of balance, other countries are much more protective of employee rights. Although the U.S. has a well-developed body of employment law, U.S. employees are not as protected by the government as their overseas counterparts. Accordingly, employee handbooks that emphasize the “employment-at-will” relationship will contradict the employee protections embedded in the laws of other countries.

Other Countries Tend to Rely on Detailed Employment Contracts: Unlike U.S. employers, who rely on open, flexible “offer letters” to begin an employment relationship, other countries have detailed employment contracts with their employees. Thus, employee handbooks may disagree, contradict, or merely repeat provisions in employment contracts typical abroad.

It Is Difficult to Accommodate Local Differences from Country to Country: The final reason that a global employee handbook is impossible is because a company’s policies must abide by local laws, which are likely to be different from U.S. law in many respects, and different from the laws of other countries. Logistically speaking, the difference in laws from country to country will make a one-stop, global handbook for all employees throughout the globe impossible.

Are Global Codes of Conduct or Codes of Ethics Possible? Absolutely

Even though U.S.-style employee handbooks are tough to globalize, matters of business conduct and ethics are particularly appropriate for a single, global code.

In fact, it is highly likely that every major U.S. multinational company has issued a global code of conduct or ethics, dealing with matters such as:

• Antitrust
• Insider Trading
• Environmental Protection
Intellectual Property
• Discrimination and Harassment
The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and Bribery
Data Protection
• Conflicts of Interest
Internal Investigations, and
• A Whistleblower Hotline

Those issues tend to be universal and a single code will easily have cross-border application. Of course, there may be local issues with regard to specific countries. Yet, when it comes to abiding by legal rules, such as avoiding the use of bribery and following the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a well-crafted, high-level global code of conduct or ethics is achievable.

Legal Translation Services for Global Code of Conduct

The final piece of this discussion must center on the need for good translation services. A well-written code of conduct or code of ethics is of no use to anyone if employees cannot understand it. So, in any effort to create a global code of conduct or ethics, the final step must be how to ensure that your employees abroad can read it. Of course, the best and most effective way to accomplish that is to obtain the services of a high-quality legal translation service.

Codes of conduct and ethics tend to use technical, legal language. For that reason, you need a professional, legal translation service that can take highly technical, legal language, and translate it properly and accurately. We invite you to consider using All Language Alliance, Inc. We have extensive experience translating legal documents in many languages, including Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Korean, French, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, Thai, Bhutanese, Dzongkha. If your multinational corporation is working towards developing a global code of conduct or global code of ethics, then make sure to keep us in mind as your final step in the process.

**This law translations blog article should not be construed as legal advice. You should always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal needs.

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