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Have You Translated Your Employee Policies?


June 23, 2014
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New York and New Jersey businesses should ensure that all of their employees understand (entender, comprendre, wakaru) their workplace policies. This includes those who are not native English speakers. In some cases, failing to translate key employee policies and legal notices can lead to costly liability. Translation Obligations in the U.S. To start, some laws require translation. For instance, Newark’s sick leave ordinance states that the required notice must be provided in English as well as the employee’s primary language if such language is the first language of at least 10 percent of the employer’s workforce. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), notices must be provided in additional languages “where an employer’s workforce includes a significant portion of workers who are not literate in English.”   In some cases, courts have held that the failure to translate important documents, such as arbitration provisions, can excuse non-compliance by non-English speaking workers. For example, a Colorado district judge recently rejected an employer’s argument that its anti-harassment policies were adequately communicated when its handbook was not translated into Spanish for employees but rather “explained” to them. Translation Obligations Overseas Multinational companies should also be careful about providing “English-only documents” to workers outside of the United States. While English is spoken around the world, many countries have laws that require businesses to provide employment documents to workers in their native language. For instance, under the Loi Toubon, companies operating in France are required to communicate with employees in French. The penalties are also steep; a subsidiary of General Electric was forced to pay $800,000 when a French subsidiary provided documents exclusively in English. Belgium and Turkey have similar requirements. Finally, it is also sound business practice to translate key policies and legal notices if a significant number of your employees speak another language. Making sure everyone is on the same page helps bolster compliance and eliminate disputes. If you have any questions about this post or would like to discuss your company’s employee policies, please contact me or the Scarinci Hollenbeck Labor and Employment attorney with whom you work.