English Is Not Your Exclusive Company Language

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US multinationals frequently issue all-hands global employee communications in English. Some designate English their “official company language.” But untranslated workplace communications can violate language laws abroad.

Translating human resources policies and employee communications can be a million-dollar issue. The Texas Supreme Court once overturned a US$1.6 million jury verdict for worker compensation retaliation in large part because the allegedly retaliatory act was consistent with a provision in a company handbook that the employer had communicated in Spanish to the monolingual Spanish-speaking worker plaintiff — the company had even had the worker sign a handbook acknowledgement “written in Spanish.” Haggar Clothing v. Hernandez, 164 S.W. 3d 386, 387 (2005). Whatever the cost to translate that particular handbook and acknowledgement was well worth US$1.6 million.

The Haggar Clothing employer was unusual in that it translated documents for domestic American staff. Many multinationals take the completely opposite approach and avoid translating even HR communications for their non-English-speaking jurisdictions abroad. This strategy, while streamlined and frugal, risks violating foreign workplace language laws. Before issuing any English-only international employee communication, investigate and comply with applicable translation mandates.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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